There is a well known Peter Drucker adage — “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
I do agree.
We’ve watched countless organizations suffer at the hands of their own culture. There are clear examples where the culture has morphed into such as incredibly difficult beast, that it leaves an organization at the brink of demise (think General Motors, News of the World, etc.) This week, we’ve learned in grave detail how Uber has seemingly turned a corner and driven directly into the muck — and at first glace we might place all blame on its culture.
However, we must recognize that culture is created by the leaders who shape that organization. Uber is no different. Those who have a hand in molding the mores, accepted practices, methods and mechanisms to support those practices. Leaders fail. They fail because they fall prey to the most human of mistakes. Mistakes of perspective that we have likely all made — but on a much grander scale that promises a widespread effect on countless individuals.
Culture can operate like a precarious game of dominoes. It is always a delicate game of balance. Once out of alignment, the entire game is halted. Ultimately, leaders have the responsibility to monitor that balance.
One element which affects this balance is hubris. A state when a leader passes into a “loss of objectivity zone” that can forever mark a company. Hubris is a disease of perspective — defined as “excessive pride or self confidence” — and the impact within an organization can be devastating.
I’ve written previously about why and how leaders fail. From Abercrombie to Wells Fargo to Volkswagen , the rise of leaders only seems to be matched by their cataclysmic demise. From falling prey to bias, to losing touch with customers — when looking back at the signs and symptoms, diagnosing a growing problem seems simple.
Hubris, you see — is a disease of perspective.
In a recent Atlantic article, Jerry Useem eloquently explores this damning by-product of leadership success. Borne of power and fueled by bias, hubris is an over-confidence that can only come from power that insulates. Research has captured the phenomenon, which is characterized by a lack of “mirroring” or empathy for others. They stop doing what likely helped them attain success. Power, it seems, can stop leaders from remaining effective.
But this question looms: How do we protect leaders from hubris?
I have my own ideas.
However, I would like to learn yours.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.