Hubris, Brexit and the demand for “servant leadership”

Hubris is on the rise, writes Henley Professor Dr Ben Laker, with unprece­dented numbers of typically white, middle-aged men flagrantly abusing positions of power. No organisation or sector is immune – hubris is not exclusive.

Defined as an excessive pride in one’s ability that leads to disaster, the warnings of the story of Icarus are lost on today’s leaders. From Harvey Weinstein to Philip Green, Carlos Ghosn to Donald Trump, they remain intent on resurrecting command-and-control, top-down leadership practices that serve their own interests.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, many hoped that business, politics and all organisations in society would return to more collective, tra­ditional values in leadership – a “people’s capitalism” and a “new conservatism”. Sadly, that hope has dissipated. In 2019 Britain, a chronic betrayal is felt towards politicians who have reneged on their social contract. The outcome of the referendum on Britain’s departure from the EU was never accepted by many of the UK’s political class.

En masse, parliament has collectively dem­onstrated a hubristic refusal to place national interest above its own. Many have attempted to reverse the outcome. Others, galvanised by a slim but decisive majority, have insisted on a “pure” Brexit, disregarding the concerns of the 48 per cent who voted to remain.

Ironically, one could argue Mrs May is the only politician displaying determination to execute public service duties, and so exemplifying the concept of servant leadership – an interconnected series of principles coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1977, but which can trace their roots to ancient civilisations in China, the Middle East and Greece. Its core principles of stewardship, authenticity and empowerment represent the antidote to the hubristic leadership that has been the root cause of so many recent problems in the world.

But there is hope. I recently discovered one organisation, the newly formed National Centre for Leadership and Management, which is deliver­ing postgraduate (including MBA) programmes which put principles of servant leadership at their heart. “The irony of these recent examples is that command-and-control leadership is entirely opposed to the needs and desires of the modern workforce,” explains CEO David Cobb. “Research tells us that generations Y and Z in particular are seeking leadership that delivers autonomy, mastery and purpose – the key drivers of job satisfaction, creativity and productivity. As the global war for talent hots up, business leaders will need to respond and adapt to these demands in order to attract and keep the best talent.”

He’s right. My big hope is that business, politics and all organisations in society support the National Centre. Now is the time to return to more collective, traditional values in leadership. Let’s not rehash 2018, for if we do not learn from the past, surely we are the hubristic ones.


By NCFLM: The National Centre for Leadership and Management (NCLM) is a multimedia association for all leaders and managers, embedding world class leadership and management development that will effect lasting change in knowledge, skills and behaviours. Delivering formal executive-level qualifications, the NCLM is proud to count the leading management thinkers of our generation as colleagues in the delivery of such relevant and inspiring education.

© Business Reporter 2021

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