Good hubris

http://www.daedalustrust.com/there-are-no-positive-aspects-to-hubris/#comment-144 Nick Bouras and George Ikkos are surely correct in their assertion that hubris has no positive connotations, but we should consider why it is necessary, perhaps even controversial, to make such a claim. Daedalus’s work shows that hubris is a psychological/organisational disorder that is absent in good leadership even though some of its elements – such as vision and risk taking – also appear in the clinical indicators for the full blown pathology, here as delusion and recklessness. Just as ‘normal’ personalities have elements of psychopathology in moderation, management studies continually identifies the elements of hubris that are required of the effective and charismatic leader. It is now a short step to congratulating corporate executives on their ‘evident’ absence of hubris, despite their rather roguish use of some of its elements.

We get close to applauding hubris when we forget that it is a cause of tremendous individual suffering and organisational ineffectiveness. We get closer still when we marvel at the Wolf of Wall Street and the panache of the Enron executives and we still face the almost complete dominance of our organisational domains by primitive hierarchies and hubristic practices. That, surely, is why we need Daedalus: to prevent hubris and do leadership better. For all our talk of new forms of management, it remains, for the most part, a dog eat dog world. What’s strange is that we still see the biggest dogs as having a certain rugged charm.

What we think now has been partly delivered to our heads by history. Bouras, Ikkos and Button take us back to the time the concept was coined. For the ancient Athenians, we could only be fully human when able to participate in collective decision-making (zoon politicon) and hubris was a critical concept used by autonomous citizens to identify a real and present danger. Specifically, the constant threat was that the hubristic leader would close down deliberative space, stunt the development of citizens and constitute a force against democracy. History thus reveals that hubris is not just a little too much of what is necessary in a leader. It is a damning accusation, by democrats, that governing elites need to be watched with the greatest care. This was Machiavelli and Rousseau’s critique of corruption by power: we need good leaders that further democracy and vigilant citizens to control them.

It cannot be that Daedalus exists to distinguish good hubris from bad. Hubris is a ‘disorder of position,’ one in which certain psychological tendencies somehow ‘fit’ the hierarchic structure in such a way as to cause significant damage. Hubris is anti-democratic and no leader should be that.