How power corrupts
From the Iraq war that de-stabilised the entire Middle East, to the collapses at RBS and Lehman Brothers sparking the global financial crisis, to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; in organisations of every type and size around the world, one factor may be at the heart of many disastrous outcomes – Hubris Syndrome.
Power corrupts as the saying goes, and out-of-control egos, high risk and reckless decision-making, arrogance and contempt for others could suggest leaders in the grip of what we call ‘Hubris Syndrome’. It has the capacity to destroy economic value, ruin careers, subvert great ideas and institutions and take lives in unnecessary wars and accidents that could have been anticipated.
What is Hubris Syndrome?Back to the top
Hubris Syndrome is the presence in someone in a position of power of three or four of the 14 “excruciatingly unflattering”* symptoms summarised below:
- They seek self-glorification
- Act to enhance personal standing
- Are excessively conscious of their own image
- Display messianic tendencies
- Believe “I am the organisation”
- Use the royal “we”
- Have excessive confidence in their own judgements and are contemptuous of others’ opinions
- Display exaggerated self-belief
- Feel they’re accountable only to history
- Believe unshakably that they will be vindicated
- Are out of touch, isolated
- Are restless, reckless, impulsive
- Are impractical – overlooking detail and possible unwanted outcomes
- Implement incompetently – fail to attend to details through excessive self-confidence**.
Individually, these are mostly narcissistic or hubristic behaviours, each potentially risky enough in their own right. But if several of them are being demonstrated by someone in an organisation you care about, something far more dangerous is at play: Hubris Syndrome.
* Rachel Salvidge, http://www.feministtimes.com/the-power-and-the-glory/
** ‘Hubris Syndrome: An acquired personality disorder? ‘A study of US Presidents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years’, David Owen and Jonathan Davidson, Brain 2009: 132; 1396-1406
Fred Goodwin – Photo by Camera Press/REX
Margaret Thatcher – Photo by I.T.N./REX
Deepwater – Photo by KPA/Zuma/REX