The spiritual challenges of power, humility and love as offsets to leadership hubris. (2006)
“…narcissism is a situational neurosis that is seductive because it is born exactly out of the gifts of a charismatic leader.”
A. L. Delbecq, Santa Clara University
Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, 3(1-2), 141-154.
“The inspiration for this reflection was the identification of hubris as the great distortion associated with organizational leadership by NASDAQ CEOs several years ago. They had gathered at a Chief Executive Institute hosted by Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. In a breakout session dealing with ‘executive legacy I asked these CEOs what led to executive failure. In less than twelve seconds they identified as their top two distortions hubris and greed with hubris being the most serious.
“Almost without self-awareness, a talented leader can slip into arrogance in social interaction with subordinates and stakeholders ….
“A leader may begin to quickly trump the objections of others with articulate defense and justification of his position. Impatience with the less verbally facile and unwillingness to engage active listening can lead to overlooking non-confirming information, underestimating barriers, engaging in precipitous action before there is sufficient organizational readiness, and failing to build necessary coalitions among stakeholders.
“The prestige of the leadership role contributes to deference by others, increasing their hesitancy to speak up in opposition to a leader’s perceptual framework. There is also fear that the leader may engage in reprisals against those who seem to oppose the leader’s favored course of action (however overestimated). Meanwhile, political sycophants create a chorus of nonrepresentative acclamations of support for the leader’s perceptual biases. These re-enforcers often cause a leader to assume there is greater agreement with his/her position than is in fact the case…..
“What then might the spiritual traditions offer as an offset to the temptation to arrogance? They focus on a virtue that seems antithetical to the literature surrounding celebrity leadership – humility…..
“In the leadership role the testing of humility begins with the daily willingness to accept criticism and be open to modification of one’s own thinking as one’s concepts are subject to examination in exchanges with others. When employees speak of a leader as being ‘open to ideas’ and a ‘good listener’ they are not implying that they are ungrateful when a leader offers ideas or challenge them by a new vision. Rather, they are saying that the appropriately humble leader is willing to admit that her ideas are imperfect, subject to improvement, and at times even wrong. The ability to offer ideas tentatively, and to receive criticism is a hallmark of leadership humility that subordinates value. Such leaders create an atmosphere of inclusiveness in contrast to competitive ‘upstaging’ that characterizes less constructive organizational cultures.
“…The above reflections are not meant to imply that most leaders are clinically narcissistic. Instead, they suggest that narcissism is a situational neurosis that is seductive because it is born exactly out of the gifts of a charismatic leader.”
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