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Observing — and Overcoming — Leadership Hubris

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

39 years ago today, I, along with 60 other campers at Camp Brethren Heights in central Michigan, wereRichard Nixon stampushered into a room with a small black and white television to watch history — President Richard Nixon was going to announce his resignation. At 12, I knew enough to know this was a historic event, but I certainly couldn’t grasp the reasons why the president had gotten to that point.

In recent weeks I've been watching a new television show that I find interesting. It airs on Spike TV and is called Bar Rescue. The premise of the show is that John Taffer, a respected consultant in the nightclub and bar business (whose bio says he has owned, flipped or rescued over 600 bars) goes into failing bars and helps them prepare to be more profitable in five days.

You’d think there would be nothing in common between these two television viewing experiences, and on the surface, you’d be right. But you don’t have to go far to find a clear connection.

That connection is leadership hubris.

Hubris is defined by Dictionary.com as “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.”

Our former president felt he was above the law — that taking whatever steps were necessary justified the means to get there. While the history is complex, it is hard not to see hubris as at least part of the problem.

On Bar Rescue, operations have gotten to a sad state of affairs, and while the location, bar concept and situations may vary episode to episode, the biggest single problem across all of the episodes I’ve seen is a big case of hubris.

Leaders/owners feeling they have the answers. Leaders feeling the problems belong to someone else instead of themselves, leaders doing more of the same and expecting new results. Leaders holding onto the past (whether successful or not) and being too proud to change anything.


In the show, while a bit rough in language at times, most owner/leaders come to see their problems as largely theirs, and those that appear to be on the road to a more successful future make changes in themselves first, knowing that is the necessary first step.

And they don’t get there alone.

The challenge of hubris is that it is often a strength over done. Do we want leaders who are self-confident and with a sense of pride?

Of course we do.

The challenge is when self-confidence becomes cockiness, arrogance and vanity — when the focus moves from the accomplishments and the team to self.

Of course you don’t have to read the history books about Watergate or turn to Spike TV on Sundays for a Bar Rescue marathon to see hubris — it is easy to see in others, but difficult to see in ourselves.

And it is one thing to observe it, but quite another to overcome it.

Because it is hard to see in ourselves, the best way to overcome it is to have someone else to hold the mirror up to you and your actions; someone else to hold us accountable for our actions and results.

As a leader you need a coach. 

And because some of what you might hear could be hard to take, I recommend that your coach is paid — because when you pay him or her, you are less likely to ignore his or her perspective and more likely to hear what you might most need to hear. And writing the check makes it harder to ignore it.

In most every case on the show, employees see what Taffer as the consultant/expert/coach shares with the leader, but the leader can’t see, hear or acknowledge it from those closest to them.

While there are many good reasons leaders should have a coach, overcoming hubris is one reason. If you aren’t getting the results you want, if you are frustrated because what used to work isn’t working any more, or even feel you have no one to talk to about your challenges, perhaps it is time for an outside perspective. Perhaps you need someone to hold the mirror up for you. 

It may be time for a coach.

(A final note – my company offers coaching services and would be happy to discuss coaching with you — but most importantly, if you want to overcome the risks of hubris — and move closer to your potential as a leader, find a coach somewhere.)

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