Saturday, 22 April 2017

Hubris Syndrome.


I've been interested in reading about 'Hubris Syndrome', an acquired 'Personality Disorder', described by Dr David Owen and Jonathan Davidson in a book published in 2009.

Their work was partly inspired by their personal experience of political leaders and business men (mainly but not exclusively men) they had met or read about. 

What they noticed was that excessively self confident and arrogant business or political leaders had the capacity to destroy the organisations they were leading as well as themselves.

Margaret Thatcher springs to mind.

In particular, Bush and Blair's manic and deranged pursuit of the war with Iraq (in defiance of the lack of any evidence of 'weapons of mass destruction' let alone any legal justification) exposed the dangers of leaders who show 'Hubris', which was defined by the ancient Greeks as  "excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis."

Here's their definition of the syndrome;

"Hubris Syndrome is the presence in someone in a position of power of three or four of the 14 “excruciatingly unflattering”* symptoms summarised below:
  • They seek self-glorification
  • Act to enhance personal standing
  • Are excessively conscious of their own image
  • Display messianic tendencies
  • Believe “I am the organisation”
  • Use the royal “we”
  • Have excessive confidence in their own judgements and are contemptuous of others’ opinions
  • Display exaggerated self-belief
  • Feel they’re accountable only to history
  • Believe unshakably that they will be vindicated
  • Are out of touch, isolated
  • Are restless, reckless, impulsive
  • Are impractical – overlooking detail and possible unwanted outcomes
  • Implement incompetently – fail to attend to details through excessive self-confidence.
Individually, these are mostly narcissistic or hubristic behaviours, each potentially risky enough in their own right. But if several of them are being demonstrated by someone in an organisation you care about, something far more dangerous is at play: Hubris Syndrome."

‘Hubris Syndrome: An acquired personality disorder? ‘A study of US Presidents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years’, David Owen and Jonathan Davidson, Brain 2009: 132; 1396-1406

Now there are two aspects of this I find really worrying - the first is that while the syndrome is present if an individual exhibits three or four of the behaviours, it's clear that Donald Trump has all of them.

Secondly, Dr David Owen was a Labour politician of the 1970's rising to be the youngest Foreign Secretary ever in the Callaghan cabinet.

In 1981 he was one of the four politicians who split away from Labour to launch The 'Social Democratic Party'. The effect of this was to prevent Labour from winning power which resulted in 18 years of Thatcher and Major.

When the project failed, he split the SDP and then was a fairly poisonous influence from outside on the merged Liberal Democrats that absorbed them.

By my estimate, Dr David Owen exhibited at least 7 of the behaviours and ultimately destroyed every political organisation he belonged to.

So, self awareness is not one of the features of this condition.

Nevertheless, it does give a valuable insight into the destructive nature of so many business and political leaders.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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