Hubris and Who's Speaking Into Your Life?

Hubris and Who's Speaking Into Your Life?

Napoleon Bonaparte was the most powerful man on the planet in 1808. He had conquered the known world and was implementing a global control he dubbed the Continental System. This system was a designed blockade to prevent trade and commerce to flow from Europe to Great Britain, his next target.

However, this system and series of decisions was one of the contributing factors to the weakening of Napoleon’s power. Spain and Russia were both still able to trade with Great Britain. This factor was one of the main causes that Napoleon and his French troops invaded both nations.

But the world’s greatest leader was blind to a handful of facts, which resulted in poor decisions. These decisions ultimately led to the demise of his empire.

Fact #1: Napoleon grossly underestimated the severity of the Russian winter. Terrible atrocities occurred because they were severely underprepared. His decimated troops ultimately had to retreat.

Fact #2: Napoleon sent troops to Spain, but they got caught in the Spanish War of Independence (aka the War of 1812). They were tied down, waylaid, and ultimately had to retreat.

Fact #3: He imprisoned the Pope because of the Pope's remarks and direct defiance to Napoleon's Continental System (amongst a few other factors). Things never go well when you imprison a man of God.

In reading Napoleon’s story, one thing is clear. Very few had the freedom to speak honestly into his life. And when he made these decisions, he didn’t filter the facts with logical reasoning.

In other words, as he grew more powerful, his decision making deteriorated.

"The historian Henry Adams...described power as 'a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.’” (source: The Atlantic)

There was a recent, psychological study conducted by Owen Davey and published in the Harvard Business Review in 2016. Davey writes, "While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities begin to fade...Power does tend to corrupt.”

“Hubris syndrome is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.”

Power unchecked acts like a disease on the brain.

The key to fighting this disease of power?

Staying grounded and remembering times when you weren’t powerful.

I don’t think that can be done in isolation or individually. You need longstanding friends and family to guide you in this sort of coping with power.

Ask yourself, who has the freedom to speak into your life candidly? When no one else will tell you the truth, who does?

If the most powerful man in the world can experience this, and this is repeated countless times throughout history, then what makes you think you can make it on your own?

Power demands honesty and humility. Without it, it’ll corrupt you (and fast).

(photo via dennis jarvis)