Beware - Is hubris syndrome limiting your leadership Impact?
“The power has gone to his head!”
That thought might have run through your mind at some stage. It’s not uncommon to come across leaders who seem to be blinded by their own power. They seem to act irrationally but with total confidence. Your diagnosis is likely to be correct: the power really has gone to her head. It’s called hubris syndrome.
Hubris and the brain.
Hubris is not something people are born with. In 2009, neuroscientist and former British politician, David Owen, found power changes the way our minds work. The longer we hold power, the more the brain alters. Owen said, “…it is becoming ever clearer that hubris syndrome is a greater threat than conventional illness to the quality of leadership ...”
Owen described hubris syndrome as a unique and acquired personality disorder that develops only after a leader has power for a certain period. Recently, researchers have found that power can rewire the brain through physiological changes.
As reported by The Atlantic, a Berkeley professor found “Subjects under the influence of power…acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.” Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University, found power corrupts a specific neural process called “mirroring,” which is a component of empathy. People with hubris are less able to recognise and respond appropriately to normal social cues.
What’s wrong with a little hubris?
Hubris is unconscious excessive pride and dangerous overconfidence. When the power goes to your head, ego gets out of control. Everything centres around you, your survival, your power, and your self-belief. It colours your reality, which eventually leads to mistakes and misjudgements.
People who are so confident they need no input from others will take more risks, make ill-considered decisions, and ignore the advice of experts around them. The problem is that those with hubris syndrome don’t know it. They won’t accept the facts until something goes wrong, and they can’t escape the fallout.
How hubris affects leadership impact.
53% of business leaders estimate that uncontrollable egos decrease their annual revenues by up to 15%. Here’s why.
Owen found people who hold the greatest power or hold power for a long time are most likely to fall victim to the syndrome. It changes our leadership style to one which is autocratic. Decisions are imposed rather than reached through consultation. Your judgement is unsound. You can’t read situations and underestimate risks. When things go wrong, you don’t accept blame and pass it onto your team. You don’t see things the way they really are because your ego gets in the way.
You can’t read people the way you once could. Empathy is gone, and people don’t matter except as tools. The impact on the team is undeniable. It loses creativity and innovation, not to mention motivation. The company loses its best talent, and overall performance starts to drop. The environment can become toxic and unstable.
Consider Donald Trump’s last days in office. He saw a completely different world than the people around him. He didn’t lose office – he was robbed. It’s not his fault. Someone else was to blame.
Hubris can push your leadership to the edge and right over, taking your team and your business with it.
Do you have hubris syndrome?
The answer requires some soul searching and personal honesty. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I listen to what others have to say?
- Are the decisions I make based on input and consultation?
- Do I look for someone to blame when things go wrong?
- Do I feel invincible?
- Do I pay attention to the detail or make decisions purely on self-confidence?
- Are my people comfortable around me? If you struggle with that question, it’s a big hint.
Leaders who have a positive and lasting impact on their teams, goals and personal performance are those who keep their feet firmly on the ground. Owen suggests you “retain a personal modesty, remain open to criticism, have a degree of cynicism or well-developed sense of humour.”
Leaders need a certain level of confidence to inspire and motivate a high-performing team. Don’t let that confidence control you and limit the quality of your leadership impact.
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Caroline Kennedy, author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished, award-winning CEO and global thought leader on business and leadership. She is a highly sought-after mentor and coach to top global executives. A respected keynote speaker and author, Caroline’s methods are neuroscience-based to achieve rapid development and growth.