Last week I looked at why you should care about your company’s ownership and capital structure. But access to capital is by no means the be and end all of corporate success. For that you need capital (real or intellectual), vision and a well-executed and communicated business plan. But even that is not enough. Because in success often lies the lurking germ of a proven company killer – hubris.
Jim Collins, in his book How The Mighty Fall, identifies hubris as one of the key identifiers of looming failure. Just ask Travis Kalanick, the recently dethroned CEO of Uber. In modern English, hubris has come to mean excessive pride or self-confidence. But in Greek Tragedy, it is defined as excessive pride “leading to nemesis”. Why is it so deadly?
The primary reason is that hubris leads inevitably to self-deception and a philosophy of “the end justifies the means”. It leads to amorality as a normal tenet of doing business which often then allows us to justify outright immorality. It was hubris that led Bernie Madoff to justify grand theft and fraud. It is hubris that causes managements to believe that abusing (or turning a blind eye to the abuse of) employees is an acceptable business behavior.
In short, hubris is the antithesis to true leadership.
Companies that achieve true, sustainable success are those where leadership is inspirational. In a people business, which MR still is in the main, inspirational leadership is the ability to take an inspired idea, tell its story clearly and get your people to buy into the journey to mutual success. It’s about listening and humility just as much as it is about being optimistic and passionate.
Some twenty years ago, David Cooperrider (among others) set out the tenets of Appreciative Leadership – an approach to management based on studying and building on what makes the organization great rather than fixating on its problems. At the root of this is Appreciative Inquiry, which is the active choice to inquire into success and positive possibilities. Cooperrider and Whitney then went on to lay out the fundamentals of Appreciative Inquiry – the Five I’s: Inclusion, Inquiry, Illumination, Inspiration and Integrity. Each of these is a very healthy antidote to hubris.
They are also an antidote to another syndrome intimately linked to hubris: delusional corner office syndrome. A few years ago, Cambiar studied the Employer Brand of multiple MR agencies in the US as seen through the eyes of employees, management and CEOs. The results were dramatic: the vast majority of CEOs had no idea of what was going on in their companies. They thought that they communicated more than their employees thought they did; they claimed to value their employees and to encourage their opinions much more than their employees said that they did. And their evaluation of their firm’s employer brand was way off.
Perception of My Firm’s Employer Brand
It’s this type of disconnect that can so easily lead to hubris and onward to ultimate disaster. The real leader, on the other hand, is the one who, through Appreciative Inquiry, aligns the organization with their own vision, passion and optimism.
Despite the rather depressing outcome of our study, suggesting widespread delusion, there are, in fact, many MR leaders, both living and dead, who are or have been the epitome of inspirational leadership. My own votes would include people like Diane Hessan, John Gongos, Gian Fulgoni and Jay Wilson.
Who would you include? Let us have your nominations for truly inspirational MR leaders in your comments – we’ll publish the results next week.