As our congressional “leaders” fail to settle differences to negotiate a deal to keep the United States government open and resolve the debt ceiling crisis, I am troubled by our failed leadership in Washington.
This leadership is failing because the representatives of “we the people” are firmly grounded in their positions (or those they are beholden to) rather than doing what is right for our country. This leadership is made up of politicians focusing on ideology instead of the practical matters of governing. This leadership is weak because they demonstrate far too much hubris and too little humility.
Hubris is running rampant throughout our society: Witness the fact that we pay so much attention to celebrities’ ideas on government matters. Cable news programs present well-quaffed talking heads’ spouting their opinions as if they are facts. And we as a people willingly choose infotainment instead of intellectual discourse.
CNN recently brought back Crossfire not because there is actually any useful information being exchanged, but because people shouting at each other apparently encourages the right demographic to tune in and watch.
This hubris, especially in the modern definition of the term, is about overconfident pride and arrogance. It reminds me of how the United States education system is falling behind many other nations in every category other than confidence. Our students may not know the correct answer, but they sure take pride in themselves anyway.
Pride that blinds does not demonstrate strong leadership. In fact, it does the exact opposite.
What if instead of accepting this hubris we demanded our leaders to act with more humility? Though often presented as a weakness in our society, humility is being studied as an important trait that can enhance leadership effectiveness.
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called Level 5 leaders those who attained the top spot in the hierarchy of executive capabilities identified in their research. Collins described these top leaders as those who “build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”
Recent research by J. Andrew Morris and Rob Nielsen suggest that humility is multi-dimensional and includes self-awareness, openness and perspective taking—emotionally intelligent traits proven vitally important to strong leadership.
Humility is one of those traits that are found in the greatest of leaders throughout history, though are not necessarily found in those who rise to fame in business or politics. That’s because to be humble doesn’t necessarily play well in the media. Being humble does not enable egotism and perhaps most pertinent today, it doesn’t create controversy.
Though hubris may attract more attention because it appeals to our basest interests and may serve to confirm our suspicions regarding inept and corrupt politicians, I believe this can’t continue. At some point Americans will stop blindly supporting those politicians and candidates who demonstrate such a lack of courage. We will no longer support those who pander to us voters while serving their more powerful financial backers. We will demand authenticity and integrity.
In the same way business leaders must prove their abilities through results, the same should be said for our political leaders. Arrogance and overconfident pride are not traits that get results and they are not traits to effectively run a company or a country.