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Leaders, self-confidence, and hubris: what’s the difference? (2010)

“Success can spell disaster for a leader. On the surface, this makes no sense.


M. Kerfoot, Vice President/Chief Clinical Officer, Aurora Health System, Milwaukee, WI; Nursing Economic$ Editorial Board Member.

On Leadership; Nursing Economics, 28(5), 349.

Success can spell disaster for a leader. On the surface, this makes no sense. One would assume if a leader has learned how to be successful, this pattern would continue. However, there are several detours the leader can take to get off the road of success. Goldsmith (2007) notes the success delusion holds many leaders back. He defines this as (a) overestimating one’s contribution to a project, (b) taking credit for what belongs to others that made the project successful, (c) having an inflated opinion of one’s professional skills, (d) ignoring the failures the leader creates, and (e) exaggerating the impact of one’s project on the organization.

Collins (2009) describes five steps in the stages of decline in an organization, the first of which is the hubris born of success. He describes this stage as developing overconfidence and arrogance as organizations experience success. This results in the drive for more success that precipitates failure because the organization loses its original focus, steers itself in the wrong direction, denies risks and perils, and soon is in a downward spiral. In this process, leaders become arrogant and forget the factors that lead to the original success. These leaders create a sense of success as entitlement and believe they will not fail.

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