Hubris: The Not So Hidden Disease Capable of Killing You and Your Business

Years ago a major manufacturer hired a research firm to conduct a survey of the cultural climate of the company.

When the study was completed, the results astounded the executive team.

The survey suggested that while more than 80 percent of the executive staff felt they were doing a fantastic job, less than 20 percent of their direct reports agreed.

The company fired that research firm and hired another one, and the results of the second study came back almost exactly the same.

After considerable soul-searching, the executive team reached the conclusion that while they might not agree with the results, two similar studies on the same subject with almost identical results could not be wrong. That started a major cultural shift that continues to this day.

Wikipedia defines the word Hubris, from ancient Greek, as extreme pride or self-confidence.

Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Beta Research surveyed 2,000 Americans in middle management and above, aged 25 and older for Bloomberg Business Week. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2.2 percent.

Like the manufacturing company survey, the executives ranked themselves as truly being great across the board.

There was little variation in the answers when the executives were segmented large versus small companies; male versus female managers; or by age.

When asked “Are you one of the top 10 percent of the performers in your company?” an astounding 97 percent of those surveyed answered “Yes.”

Could all of these executives and managers really be that good?

The answer is no. Few are great, some are good and most executives and managers are mediocre.

I have learned to accept the arrogance of sales people, who must keep their self-esteem high in light of the delays and rejections they accept before a sale is made.

Having been, at one time, a young person armed with an MBA who supposedly knew all there was to know and was beyond being taught anything, I learned within a few years to the benefit of others that knowledge learned soon fades and it pays to be a life-long learner.

I have grown tired of hearing from those in business who pontificate about things they know absolutely nothing about. Or those owners and managers who say and actually believe that “everything is under control” only to discover it is not, to the detriment of those around them.

But when hubris extends to an owner who has no formal exit strategy from their business, has not put a succession plan in place, does not have a buy sell agreement, does not have enough life insurance, are not in good physical shape for their age, work more than is healthy, need to spend more time working on their business than in their business and should learn to delegate better, it can and most likely will prove deadly.

Here is the truth: none of us is as good as we think we are. We can all become better at our chosen profession.

Hubris is a disease. Left unchecked, it can kill a business. It can kill the owner.

How badly it has impacted your company can only be determined by the willingness of the owner to look in the mirror and accept that what they see looking back is far from perfect with considerable room for improvement.