One of the worst mistakes founders and execs will ever make is to hire or promote someone into a leadership role who manages through an insatiable ego as their driving force for every thought and decision.

But it happens. And when hubris becomes a stronghold in your culture, it can be the cause of much conflict and unneeded drama for employees. A quick example: Managers who destroy morale by putting themselves on a pedestal as the source for all the answers, and use it to wield power over their people.

The damaging effects of hubris

Research says that people exhibiting "hubristic pride" (as opposed to a more healthy and authentic pridewere found to be narcissistic, reflecting feelings of arrogance, grandiosity, and superiority. They also experienced more interpersonal conflicts and, ironically enough, were prone to shame. 

Truth is, these people hurt businesses in many ways. In my own observations as an executive coach, I have seen these behaviors in leaders exhibiting hubristic pride:

  • Taking credit for other people's work, thereby distancing themselves from others.
  • Exaggerating stories and accomplishments, because the simple truth doesn't get enough of a reaction.
  • Feeling entitled to star treatment because of their position or title. 
  • Lacking accountability and failing to exercise active and respectful listening.

The first step in doing something about hubristic pride is to acknowledge that it is a problem. For many, it may be a big blind spot that requires self-examination. If this is you, a few questions (and honest answers) can help determine whether a toxic ego is affecting work relationships and harming the business.

Questions for self-examination

  • Are you concerned about getting what you deserve?
  • Do you boast about successes without crediting others?
  • Do you feel like you deserve special treatment because of your position?
  • Do you find yourself embellishing the truth to get attention?
  • Do you often call attention to your possessions, abilities, or sacrifices?
  • Are you obsessed with the areas where you are better than others?
  • Do you work to the point of exhaustion, often going above and beyond to seek affirmation and approval?
  • Do you constantly strive for perfection because it makes you feel acceptable?
  • Are you argumentative and often disagree with others?
  • Do you manage the actions of others to make sure they do things your way?
  • Do you assume the worst or often condemn others?
  • Do you intentionally belittle others with cutting remarks?

To create positive change will require some humility. This often misunderstood word first struck me in the context of leadership when Jim Collins mentioned it in his seminal book Good to Great.

Collins basically said that the best leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness.

These leaders, as Collins determined in his study, gain an edge through displaying both fierce professional will and extreme personal humility. This paradoxical mix creates superb results.

As the saying goes, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

In essence, humble leaders achieve greatness without arrogance and hubristic pride. They shift from ego to humility which can drastically alter the outcome to their advantage.