Leadership Schizophrenia: The Fine Line Between Hubris and Humility

Leadership is a balancing act.  Imagine the tightrope walker at the circus, precariously navigating from one side of the big top to the other.

If the walker puts too much weight on one side or the other, they’ll take a big fall.

And so it is for those who lead.

Of the many fine lines we have to deal with, none is more challenging than the balance we need to strike between hubris and humility.

There are times we need to step up, pushing ourselves forward aggressively, and for a brief moment in time, we become the center of attention.  It’s all about us.  Because if we don’t, the ship will stall, or enter choppy waters.

At other times, we must step back, and let our teammates fend for themselves, learn from their mistakes, or get the credit for the achievement.  It’s all about them, so the ship will gain momentum.

If it sounds a bit schizophrenic – yes, it certainly is.  But the rub of it all is that human personalities tend to fall naturally one way of the other (and don’t have split personalities), so when leaders perform their humility/hubris balancing trick,  they have to go “against the grain” on occasion.

The key is to identify your “strong side” early on in your leadership learning process.     Proper self-evaluation is critical – review your behavior carefully after every event cycle.   Were there times that your hubris actually got in the way of progress?  Or did your humility prevent you from taking control of a situation that could have been resolved much sooner?

Once you know your base tendency, the really hard part starts- putting the unnatural side into action. First, there’s the self-awareness needed to recognize a situation where this side needs to be applied, and then there’s the actual stepping up and doing it.

Yes, there’s a certain amount of very self conscious acting going on – I liken it to actually being on a stage, playing a role – so there’s the fear factor.  What if I come off as insincere?  If I’ve never exhibited this behavior before, will people think I’m a phony?

Granted, if you’ve consistently been on one side of the ledger, and suddenly you switch sides, it can be jarring for your team.  But you have to start somewhere. Keep at it.  Eventually, hitting the right mix will come naturally and you’ll start producing better results, and your team will glide along with you.

This is one of the most challenging parts of leadership – the need to occasionally “be” something you think you are not.   I know that sounds contrary to quite a bit of leadership guidance that demands that we stay “authentic” and true to ourselves, but here’s the thing – I happen to believe that over the long haul,  our “base” humanity  will always shine through, no matter how “schizo” we may seem from one situation to the next.

Which leads to the question,  which base is better?  In my view, it’s humility, but that’s another post. In the meantime, get on that tightrope and lead!


  1. Human Being says

    Very interesting and very well presented. We hear CEOs being analysed as leaders of one type or other. We learn about leadership styles from great leaders and we are expected to compare and comprehend proven leadership styles to see better outcomes. Is it our British way to over analyse things to understand inorder to predict the outcome of future or American way to brand CEOs with a style so they don’t act out of the grove. I am not sure!
    In my opinion though, although leadership is one topic which is spoken widely in the management arena, i feel we should learn from the history of other leadership styles, but should not brand ourself to a specific style. We should leave our instincts to make choices in the situations. Although branding oneself makes them pridictable for others, but the situations that might have existed in the past might have been absolutely different from this age of nanotechnologies. History should teach us to understand and incorporate risk factors in our decisions and enable us to have alternative course of actions available.
    I remember one such incident where a talented team leader was expected to fit the so called ‘role’ rather than getting the role to fit her. Most organisations have a specified positions however junior that may be, the expectation is that new hires should fit the role aptly. “You should do this, this and that. And you should do things in this way only! as we have been doing things in this way for decades and it works!”. How many times have we heard this. Being a Hiring Manager, i always wished to give people guidelines on reponsibilites of the position rather than caging them to a specified outlook. If that(caging) was the idea, robots would have been a better choice than bloody human beings!
    I feel it is the instinctive reaction to the situation that makes people different. I happen to notice my own behavioral changes as i grew older. While i was young i would dare to take big risks and as i grew older, i seemed to have higher order of stake at risk if i were to take big turns, so my steps were more cautious and each step i landed up convincing myself that it was absolutely warranted. I would love to still go back in time and keep myself young to play high risky games, but here again it is instinctive action that comes to play. Human instincts grows and matures. And that is why CEOs are mostly older folks, they can’t actually do things as fast as you could, but they are expected to have gone through the mill to understand and predict the outcome. That is why great and successful CEOs ought to be the once that are enablers than dictators!


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