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Barry Posner
Dean/Scholar

Barry Posner

Barry Posner is Dean of the Leavey School of Business and Professor of Leadership at Santa Clara University.

The Treachery of Hubris

Say what you will about George W. as a leader -- and I believe history will judge him harshly -- we can't overlook the fact that he is among only 44 people who have been elected to the highest office in the nation, and only the 16th to be elected for a second term. From this perspective he must be given his due, if only for being good at following the suggestions of others, being at the right place at the right time, or however else one might want to discount this singular accomplishment. Clearly much more capable people have either not been willing to put themselves in the position to become president or have not been selected by their party or by the people.

On the question of what President Bush's strengths are as a leader, I am reminded that any individual's strengths, when taken to an extreme, can lead one astray. Virtues can become vices. Take for example, Bush's self-confidence and determination. Great qualities, but we can see what happens when taken to an extreme these become self-righteousness and stubbornness.

Having a clear vision, or point of view, is important and yet a singular focus on one vision of the future can blind a leader to other possibilities as well as to the realities of the present. Similarly an over-reliance on collaboration and trust may reflect an avoidance of critical decisions or cause errors in judgment.

Far more insidious than any of these potential problems, however, is the treachery of hubris. It's gratifying to have influence and exhilarating to have scores of people cheer your every word. In many all-too-subtle ways, it's easy to be seduced by power and importance. Failures of leadership throughout history, including for George W. Bush, has been infection with the disease of hubris, becoming bloated with an exaggerated sense of self and pursuing their own ends seemingly oblivious to the voices of others or the situation around them. Think of Nero fiddling while Rome burned around him, or think of CEOs over these past years who have led their companies into oblivion, or think of what the only US President to resign his office Richard Nixon's claimed: "When the President does it, that means it's not illegal."

Humility is the antidote to hubris. Nothing in our research hints that leaders should be perfect. Leaders aren't saints - they are human beings, full of the flaws and failings of the rest of us. Humility provides each one of us -- leaders, would-be leaders, individual contributors, and constituents - with a sense of perspective that "you can't do it alone" and then to act accordingly. With self-effacing humor and generous and sincere credit to others, humble leaders inspire higher and higher levels of performance. Barack Obama seems to understand this point as he is about to embark on his own set of leadership challenges as the 44th President of the United States.

By Barry Posner

 |  January 6, 2009; 11:40 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Could Posner identify, for example, what "own ends" it was that George Bush was pursuing? No, he can't because it's just rhetoric, as well as the part where we're supposed to think about Richard Nixon and think about Nero and all that garbage.
Preventing another terrorist attack was pursuing his own ends? Preventing another attack was fiddling while Rome burned?Persuading Americans, especially in New York and Washington, to keep the wheels turning after 9/11 had anything to do with Richard Nixon's bunglers?
Shallow.

Posted by: chatard | January 13, 2009 10:24 AM
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I think Samson151 hit the nail on the head

there are those who grow into the role and those who grow out of it

but let's turn to the page on G minor - please
I'm tired of mediocrity - let him be banished to the same place reserved for Paris Hilton!

I hope recent experiences in the economic world brings forth new leadership (political, business and social) that can grow and rebuild on a new foundation that has stronger underpinnings beyond being able to boast about meeting last quarter's goals.

There's a heavy cost and only inspired leadership has the requisite currency to pay it back.


thank you for the insight Barry et al

Posted by: miroslodki | January 8, 2009 9:49 AM
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In tales of ancient Greece, hubris was punished by the gods.

I like to think that in the long run, GW will also be punished by the gods for his hubris. I sincerely hope that he lives a long life so that he can see the results of his narrow ideology and what he has done to the country that he has claimed he loves.

Posted by: limpscomb | January 7, 2009 8:15 AM
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Let's not overlook the fact that Bush was not really elected in 2000, and that there were serious problems with the 2004 election in Ohio. Bush the Younger doesn't become President without the help of the Supreme Court.

As for Posner being a "pseudo-intellectual left-wing wacko," that's better than being an anti-intellectual right-wing wacko.

Posted by: luridone | January 6, 2009 11:53 PM
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I hope you aren't crushed by that well-reasoned rebuttal, you pseudo-intellectual left-wing whacko. I'll taunt you with more 50 year old cliches if you aren't careful!

Posted by: pushbush | January 6, 2009 5:58 PM
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To me, Bush II exemplifies the widening gap between politicians who can get themselves elected, versus those who can actually do the job once they get there.

It's hard to imagine anyone less prepared to be President than GWB. Where Obama appeared to have grown into the job, Bush seemed to grow out of it. Instead of becoming a bigger figure on the world stage, he became a lesser one. And took his country along with him.

He was good at running for office, though.

The tipoff as to what sort of President he would be should have been his record during his brief five years as Governor of Texas, the last two of which were spent running for the Presidency.

He found the time to sign execution orders for 150 men and 2 women.

That's not a 'decider' weighing difficult alternatives. That's a petty bureaucrat clearing up a case backlog.

What sort of leader was George W. Bush? No sort of leader at all.

Posted by: Samson151 | January 6, 2009 3:45 PM
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As Gator pointed out, Posner, Dean of a school at a major University, can't even get his facts straight, but feels qualified to expound on Bush. Talk about hubris! Also, Bush regularly made fun of himself and you don't have to be a professor to know that; just watch C-span.Obviously caught up in Frost/Nixon he goes on about that. Not one word about the victory in Iraq. This guy,Posner, is prime example of pseudo-intellectual left-wing whacko. Good choice, Post.

Posted by: chatard | January 6, 2009 3:07 PM
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Annoying technical correction

[Excerpt] "Say what you will about George W. as a leader -- and I believe history will judge him harshly -- we can't overlook the fact that he is among only 44 people who have been elected to the highest office in the nation"

Actually, W was the 42nd person to serve as president, and on 1/20/09 will be 1 of 43 men to have held the office. Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms and is counted as both the 22nd and 24th presidents, which is why President Obama will be the 43rd person to serve as president, despite carrying the "44" title.

Also, fewer than 43 have been "elected", as some presidents such as #38 Gerald Ford, #17 Andrew Johnson, #10 John Tyler and #13 Millard Fillmore served out terms of their elected predecessors who died or resigned while in office.

Still, no arguing that W really stunk up the place. He has few competitors as the worst domestic president and even fewer competitors as the worst foreign affairs president. He was really the complete package as far as failure is concerned.

Posted by: gator711 | January 6, 2009 1:44 PM
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