HUBRIS & Why it is the enemy of good leadership. #HarvardBusinessReview #DeathByPlanningBook

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: One of my books for Abingdon Press is called Growth by Accident, Death by Planning: How not to kill a growing congregation. I looked at churches that were growing and the mistakes they made that usually stopped that growth. One of the mistakes was allowing “hubris” to subtly affect the leader. This article in Harvard Business Review cites research that confirms this hypotheses.

Ego Is the Enemy of Good Leadership

by Rasmus Hougaard & Jacqueline Carter , Harvard Business Review, 11/6/18.

… As we rise in the ranks, we acquire more power. And with that, people are more likely to want to please us by listening more attentively, agreeing more, and laughing at our jokes. All of these tickle the ego. And when the ego is tickled, it grows. David Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary and a neurologist, and Jonathan Davidson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, call this the “hubris syndrome,” which they define as a “disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years.”

… Our ego is like a target we carry with us. And like any target, the bigger it is, the more vulnerable it is to being hit. In this way, an inflated ego makes it easier for others to take advantage of us. Because our ego craves positive attention, it can make us susceptible to manipulation. It makes us predictable. When people know this, they can play to our ego. When we’re a victim of our own need to be seen as great, we end up being led into making decisions that may be detrimental to ourselves, our people, and our organization.

An inflated ego also corrupts our behavior. When we believe we’re the sole architects of our success, we tend to be ruder, more selfish, and more likely to interrupt others. This is especially true in the face of setbacks and criticism. In this way, an inflated ego prevents us from learning from our mistakes and creates a defensive wall that makes it difficult to appreciate the rich lessons we glean from failure.

Finally, an inflated ego narrows our vision. The ego always looks for information that confirms what it wants to believe. Basically, a big ego makes us have a strong confirmation bias. Because of this, we lose perspective and end up in a leadership bubble where we only see and hear what we want to. As a result, we lose touch with the people we lead, the culture we are a part of, and ultimately our clients and stakeholders.

Read more at …

EXCELLENCE & The Trouble With Excellence

The Trouble With Excellence

by , The Guardian Newspaper (UK), 12/19/14.

No scientific organisation is complete without an aspiration towards excellence. The Royal Society promotes ‘excellence in science’. Conferences bear titles like ‘Excellence 2012’ (with the strapline ‘Excellence revisited – the value of excellence’). Places from Nairobi to New York are looking to build ‘centres of excellence’. Developing countries, with the encouragement of bodies like the World Bank and the Commission for Africa, construct copycat science policies that aim to catch up with the world’s scientific leaders in a form of race, downplaying local needs and strengths.

In October my institution, University College London, celebrated two events that are both in my view excellent: a Nobel Prize for neuroscientist John O’Keefe and the launch of an Engineering Exchange, working with local communities to conduct research projects relevant to their needs that. Only one of those would satisfy the standard criteria for excellence set by many institutions.

‘Excellence’ is an old-fashioned word appealing to an old-fashioned ideal. ‘Excellence’ tells us nothing about how important the science is and everything about who decides. It is code for decision-making based on the autonomy of scientists. Excellence is judged by peers and backed up by numbers such as h-indexes and journal impact factors, all of which reinforces disciplinary boundaries and focuses scientists’ attention inwards rather than on the problems of the outside world. Scientometrics work by Ismael Rafols and colleagues has revealed how journal rankings discourage interdisciplinarity by systematically evaluating disciplinary research more highly. When added to the other institutional pressures of reward and recognition in science, we might regard ‘excellence’ as something worthy of policy scrutiny rather than blind support.

Prioritizing ‘excellent’ research perpetuates the reproduction of scientific elites and the concentration of scientific research in particular disciplines and places. Robert Merton called it the Matthew Effect after the Gospel relating Jesus’s parable of the talents: ‘unto every one that hath shall be given… but from him that hath not shall be taken away’.

The European Research Council (ERC) claims it uses “excellence to recognise excellence”. It is ironic that the ERC’s erstwhile president, Helga Nowotny, has long wrestled with the definition of excellence as a science policy scholar. In 2012 she claimed “excellence itself is multidimensional”. After standing down in 2013 she acknowledged that narrow criteria of excellence would indeed tend to concentrate research funding.

Twenty years ago, Nowotny and her co-authors recognized in a book that if academic research was to serve society there would have to be “a redefinition of excellence among academics, of their career aspirations, of their disciplinary contributions, and their institutional loyalties.” Their book described science moving from ‘Mode 1’ to ‘Mode 2’:

“Success in Mode 1 might perhaps be summarily described as excellence defined by disciplinary peers. In Mode 2 success would have to include the additional criteria such as efficiency or usefulness, defined in terms of the contribution the work has made to the overall solution of transdisciplinary problems.” (p. 33)

They went on to argue that, as universities reconsider their place in societies and economies, there needs to be “a redefinition of excellence among academics, of their career aspirations, of their disciplinary contributions, and their institutional loyalties.” (p. 156)

That has not happened. Instead our sense of excellence has narrowed. In response to growing pressure on scientists to demonstrate their relevance, ‘excellence’ has taken on a negative definition, as the opposite of ‘impact’. In Britain, Research Councils and the REF now talk about ‘excellence with impact’. Researchers are asked to show how their work influences the real world but ‘impact’ is an end-of-pipe idea. There is no consideration upstream of socially-important important research or, as Nature put it in a 2013 special issue, ‘the science that matters’.

Read more at …

HIERARCHIES & Why It Increases the Risk of Calamitous Decisions

by Gary Hamel, Harvard Business Review, 12/11.

… the typical management hierarchy increases the risk of large, calamitous decisions.

  • As decisions get bigger, the ranks of those able to challenge the decision maker get smaller.
    • Hubris, myopia, and naïveté can lead to bad judgment at any level,
    • but the danger is greatest when the decision maker’s power is, for all purposes, uncontestable.
  • Give someone monarchlike authority, and sooner or later there will be a royal screwup.

A related problem is that the most powerful managers are the ones furthest from frontline realities. All too often, decisions made on an Olympian peak prove to be unworkable on the ground.

Read more at …

GIVING & Are the Rich and/or Powerful Coldhearted? #ResearchSaysYes

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Leader … watch yourself! Researchers have long known that the higher your position, power, finances and/or status in society the less easily you will empathize with the needy. See my chapter on this in Growth by Accident, Death by Planning (Abingdon Press, 2004).  Here is research that again proves it!”

Powerful and Coldhearted, New York Times, 7/25/14


I FEEL your pain.

These words are famously associated with Bill Clinton, who as a politician seemed to ooze empathy. A skeptic might wonder, though, whether he truly was personally distressed by the suffering of average Americans. Can people in high positions of power — presidents, bosses, celebrities, even dominant spouses — easily empathize with those beneath them?

Psychological research suggests the answer is no. Studies have repeatedly shown that participants who are in high positions of power (or who are temporarily induced to feel powerful) are less able to adopt the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people, compared to participants who are powerless (or are made to feel so).

For example, Michael Kraus, a psychologist now at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and two colleagues found that among full-time employees of a public university, those who were higher in social class (as determined by level of education) were less able to accurately identify emotions in photographs of human faces than were co-workers who were lower in social class. (While social class and social power are admittedly not the same, they are strongly related.)

Why does power leave people seemingly coldhearted? Some, like the Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, have suggested that powerful people don’t attend well to others around them because they don’t need them in order to access important resources; as powerful people, they already have plentiful access to those.

We suggest a different, albeit complementary, reason from cognitive neuroscience. On the basis of a study we recently published with the researcher Jeremy Hogeveen, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, we contend that when people experience power, their brains fundamentally change how sensitive they are to the actions of others…

Read more at …

HUBRIS & 10 Ways to Recognize Our Arrogance #ChuckLawless

by Chuck Lawless, 6/14/14

I’m writing this post for me as much as for anyone. In the past months, I’ve re-read Jim Collins’ How the Mighty Fall and Tim Irwin’s Derailed. Both of these gripping studies review the process of decline in leaders and organizations, especially in leaders who perhaps once thought themselves invincible.

These studies challenge me because I know I’m prideful. I also know that “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18, HCSB). With me, use these potential markers of arrogance to avoid such a fall.

Marker #1: You believe few people are as smart as you are.

Marker #2: Your first reaction to negative is to be defensive or to cast blame on others.

Marker #3: Titles matter to you.

Marker #4: You assume your organization cannot fail.

Marker #5: Not knowing “insider information” bothers you.

Marker #6: You are disconnected from your team members.

Marker #7: Spiritual disciplines are secondary, if not non-existent, in your life.

Marker #8: No one has permission to speak truth into your life.

Marker #9: Other people see you as arrogant.

Marker #10: This post bothers you . . . or doesn’t bother you.

My own arrogance haunts me as I write these words. Please pray for me.

LEADERSHIP & The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaders #HarvardBusinessReview

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “This research indicates that leaders that demonstrate “altruistic leadership” are more successful at reaching objectives. This requires putting the team first and empowering them, ahead of the leader’s interests (hence, the term altruistic or other-centered leadership). See how this applies to the church in ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church (Abingdon Press, 2012) the chapter on ‘O = Others’.”

by Jeanine Prime, Harvard Business Review