Politics and Hubris

The dictionary definition of hubris is- a personality trait of extreme or foolish pride, dangerous overconfidence, often in combination with arrogance.’  

There are many examples of ‘hubrists’ in the world of politics. Charisma, charm, the ability to inspire and persuade, enjoying risk taking and possessing bold self-confidence are all qualities associated with successful leadership. It would be hard to face the continual criticism, back stabbing and media scrutiny of modern politics without having a strong sense of entitlement. Unfortunately, the hubristic leader may also believe that their performance and knowledge are far superior to that of others, and their success is guaranteed simply because they are always right. They will make reckless decisions, ignore the advice of others, and genuinely believe that they deserve to be above the law. This discrepancy between a leader’s high level of self-confidence and their less than perfect decision making can have devastating repercussions, for example, Bush and Blair’s confidence in the period leading up to the 2003 Iraq War, contrasting with their abject failure to anticipate the far-reaching consequences of the war. 

While the effects of national and international leaders’ hubris are obvious to all, hubris can also be observed in businesses and organisations across all levels. 

In order to avoid falling into the hubris trap individuals need to:

  • Reflect on past situations where hubris has caused problems and acknowledge the dangers of over confidence and arrogance.
  • Reflect on their own performance honestly: recognising failures, taking responsibility for things that went wrong and, when thinking about successes, always acknowledging the contribution of others.
  • Not take themselves too seriously; be willing to make mistakes and appear less than perfect. 
  • Surround themselves with people who will help to ground them in reality, rather than ‘yes men’ who will boost their ego. 
  • Ask others for their opinion and listen to what they say.
  • Pay attention when given feedback, and think about what is being said.
  • Be kind. When making decisions, think about how the decisions made will affect others.

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