Lance Armstrong serves as a larger-than-life reminder that hubris -- whether of a leader, or an enterprise -- is one of the surest and most insidious self-destruct mechanisms in the arsenal. An overactive ego, an obsession to win at all costs, and/or a lack of appropriate humilty are deadly. When the hubris cycle ends, we see what showed up in Armstrong's "confession without explanation" Thursday -- the clacking skeleton of glory gone wrong.
Hubris (source: dictionary.com): ˈhjuːbrɪs — n
2. (in Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor's ruinWhile Mr. Armstrong is an extreme example, joining the likes of Bernie Medoff and Hosne Mubarek, garden-variety hubris infects many successful executives and organizations.
Whether arrogance, deceitfulness, inflated ego -- hubris is a "wrong" relationship with power and/or success.It can manifest in many ways, including:
- Being a bully, belligerent or self-important
- Wielding power in an overbearing way, harmful to self or others
- Being entitled
- Not asking others for help
- Not admitting a problem
- Not able to learn from mistakes
- Not taking responsibility
- Sacrificing values and/or ethics for the ultimate "win"
Any one of us can take on these traits/behaviors at times, which leads us back to the question: what practices keep hubris in check, whether in ourselves or others, and avoid its malignant outcome?
If the hubris problem is in someone else, it's important to come to terms with the fact that we can't fix the other person. There's nothing anyone can do to help them until they are ready or willing to face it in themselves and recover. In many cases, their behavior will lead them to a crash (in recovery circles, that's known as "hitting bottom,") and one hopes thereafter they will begin an inquiry into their own responsibility in creating the problem, and address it.
If the problem is your own, and you want to address it, then congratulations. You're on the right road.
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
It's important to make humility (i.e., a “right” relationship to power and success) and integrity as your core values, and to find ways of incorporating them into day-to-day living.
One of the ways to do that is take a regular inventory (for example, making some notes) of your beliefs and practices related to your own power, self-importance, responsibility, integrity, and need to succeed, win, or achieve. Here are several framing questions in each of these areas:
- Power: To what extent do you use your positional authority to help others versus get ahead yourself? Do you promptly admit when you are indeed powerless (and not trying to force your will in such situations?)
- Self-importance: To what extent are you (and/or your comfort, security, success) more important than others?
- Responsibility: When you have a success, is it more your own victory, or was it your team? When there is a failure, is it yours, or does it belong to others?
- Integrity: Are you inclined to be brutally honest, and true to your values and principles, or are you inclined to view those as relative to the situation?
- Personal Courage: Do you, on an ongoing basis, identify and face the things about yourself you wish to work on or change, and do your best to address them? Do you, on an ongoing basis, admit when you are wrong, and promptly make necessary amends to yourself and others?
These questions, asked of yourself on a periodic basis, are a good start.
Leaders and public figures have a greater opportunity (and therefore a chance to take responsibility) than others to show us how hubris can be kept in check, and the power and grace that humility brings to themselves, others, and their organizations.