The Preacher says: “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2 NLT)
The ancient Greeks believed this, and so did the Preacher. Stephen Covey says that pride is the great barrier to Synergy or symbiosis. He gives this example: “The synergy mentality short-circuits conflict in the workplace, and the resulting spark of genius can be dazzling. But synergy does not come cheap, and the forces working against it are formidable. The toughest barrier to synergy is pride. It’s the great insulator that prevents the creative blending of human energies.
There is a whole continuum of pride, from the familiar “NIH Syndrome” (“If it’s Not Invented Here, it can’t be worth anything”) all the way to the hubris that leads to the downfall of people, organizations, and nations.
The ancient Greeks taught that hubris, or extreme arrogance, was the worst of crimes. In those days, a soldier who boasted of his own strength and humiliated his enemies was guilty of hubris. So was a king who abused his subjects for his personal gain. The Greeks believed that hubris would bring on nemesis, or inevitable ruin. Hubris, they said, always leads to tragedy in the end—and they were right.
Today we’ve seen the collapse of some of our most trusted institutions because of hubris at the highest levels. In the financial debacle of 2008, many key leaders were guilty of everything from blind overconfidence to outright fraud.
The main symptom of hubris is a lack of conflict. If no one dares to challenge you, if you receive little input from others, if you find yourself talking more than listening, if you’re too busy to deal with those who disagree then you’re heading for a fall. An example is the former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
According to reports, this man “brooked no criticism. . . . Every morning his immediate circle took part in a meeting where on occasions executives could he reprimanded seriously.” He referred to his unfriendly acquisitions as mercy killings. The Times of London called his leadership “hubristic.” Thus he was isolated from the truth about the oncoming banking crisis, for which his aggressively risky business dealings were said to be partly responsible
In 2007 his bank was worth £75 billion; by 2009 it was worth £4.5 billion and had suffered “the biggest loss in British banking history.”’
Looking at another example, it’s probable that the anti-synergy mind-set at Enron brought that company down. Observers see in Enron the classic model of a hubristic culture: “This was a company that purposely shut down alternative and conflicting views of reality to protect the status quo. In the name of preserving success and being in hard-nosed pursuit of greatness, an inflexible, intolerant culture developed in which new ideas were ignored, concerns were dismissed, and critical thinking got you fired.” (Covey, ‘The 3rd Alternative’)
The Preacher was so convinced of the folly of pride that he states categorically that it leads to disgrace, period. And he states it publicly as an axiom, a life principle, as though there is no escaping the disgrace that pride will bring in the end. Pride makes us think we’re better than we are. Pride prevents us from listening to the opinions of others as being valid perspectives in any given situation. Pride makes us think we know best. Pride prevents us from understanding that we, too, have blind spots, and that we need others to help us understand the whole picture.