Hubris Syndrome

Linguistic biomarkers of Hubris syndrome

Co-authored paper with David Owen published by Elsevier 2013

The phenomenon of exuberant overconfidence (hubris), and subsequent humiliation or destruction (nemesis) of powerful leaders is a familiar one: it is a recurring theme in Ancient Greek tragedy, runs through the Western dramatic canon in depictions of doomed tyrants, and has been played out in the rise and fall of dictators throughout history, right up to the present century. The English language itself reflects the cul- tural impact of the phenomenon in cliche ́ (“power has gone to his head”), proverbs (“pride goes before a fall”), and dicta [“power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts abso- lutely” (Acton, 1887)]. Recent events in Western democratic politics, business and finance have brought wider issues of leadership, and what Bertrand Russell (1961) referred to as ‘the intoxication of power’, under renewed scrutiny…

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For more on Hubris Syndrome, visit daedalustrust.com – the website of the academic and research oriented Trust dedicated to raising awareness of this important leadership and governance issue.

Science can help to spot symptoms of executive hubris

Article published in The Financial Times 23 September 2013

How can an investor tell if a bank is heading for danger? In the past five years, analysts have proposed all manner of financial measures. But why not analyse the words of the person running the bank? Researchers have been looking at the speech patterns of leaders such as British politicians and bank chief executives. And this has revealed a point that we instinctively know but often forget: power not only goes to the head, but also to the tongue.

More specifically, when leaders become hubristic, it generates what psychologists call “linguistic biomarkers”. Hubris has long fascinated poets, philosophers and political scientists. Four years ago David Owen, a former British foreign minister who happens also to be a psychiatrist, tried to give the idea a firmer framework by listing 14 markers of hubris. He examined dozens of British and US politicians over the past century and concluded that some leaders (such as the former British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair) had succumbed to hubris in office. Others (such as John Major) had not…

To read the full article please click here

For more on Hubris Syndrome, visit daedalustrust.com – the website of the academic and research oriented Trust dedicated to raising awareness of this important leadership and governance issue.

Power corrupts but it also plays with your mind: Lloyd George, Chamberlain and Thatcher all suffered from ‘hubris syndrome’

Article by Lord Owen published in The Independent 22 September 2013

If we are to prevent disasters such as a re-run of the global financial crisis or an escalation of conflict in the Middle East, the warnings inherent in the tales of Ancient Greece could demonstrate important lessons.

The phenomenon of exuberant overconfidence (hubris) and subsequent humiliation or destruction (nemesis) of powerful leaders has played out throughout history.

Senior figures in politics, finance, business and academia told a conference at the Judge Institute in Cambridge this week that current leaders must become self- aware of hubristic tendencies in themselves, and take active steps to avoid the development of Hubris Syndrome (HS), an acquired personality disorder which unchecked, can result in disastrous decision-making. It tends to remit on leaving office.

HS was first described in 2009 by Lord David Owen, a neurologist and former Foreign Secretary. With US colleague Jonathan Davidson, he described its characteristic pattern of exuberant overconfidence, recklessness and contempt for others, displaying Bertrand Russell’s ‘intoxication of power’..

To read the full article please click here

For more on Hubris Syndrome, visit daedalustrust.com – the website of the academic and research oriented Trust dedicated to raising awareness of this important leadership and governance issue.

Hubris Syndrome- Lord Owen Speaks to the IOP Students

Lecture by Lord Owen to the IOP Students, 17 June 2013

Students from the Mental Health Studies Programme at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s were given a fascinating insight into the dark world of the Hubris Syndrome in a lecture presented by Lord David Owen.

In his talk, Lord Owen described the ‘Hubris Syndrome’ – how the intoxication of power takes hold and turns many leaders into tyrants who are no longer able or willing to listen to the advice from intelligent and respected sources.  Consequently, for those suffering from the syndrome, once the glory and success has gone to their heads, it affects every action they take – a trajectory which can lead to devastating consequences.

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Speech on Hubris Syndrome by Lord Owen: James Joyce Award

Speech on ‘Hubris Syndrome’ Delivered by The RT Hon Lord David Owen CH On The Occasion Of The Conferral Of The James Joyce Award By The Literary and Historical Society University College, Dublin

Tuesday 4 October 2011

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For more on Hubris Syndrome, visit daedalustrust.com – the website of the academic and research oriented Trust dedicated to raising awareness of this important leadership and governance issue.

Simon Jenkins, Writing in The Guardian Supports David Owen’s Call for Study of Impact of Power on Leader’s Personality

“Gordon Brown now suffers that incurable syndrome: ex-PM”

Article by Simon Jenkins, in The Guardian Thursday 14 July 2011

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For more on Hubris Syndrome, visit daedalustrust.com – the website of the academic and research oriented Trust dedicated to raising awareness of this important leadership and governance issue.

Open Mind: Interviews with Richard Heffner

Lord David Owen Open Mind Interviews With Richard Heffner

Open Mind:  Medicalizing Poor Political Leadership, Part I

Open Mind:  Medicalizing Poor Political Leadership, Part II

For more on Hubris Syndrome, visit daedalustrust.com – the website of the academic and research oriented Trust dedicated to raising awareness of this important leadership and governance issue.

Psychiatry and politicians – afterword

Published in the The Psychiatrist

Commentary on… Psychiatry and politicians

See special article, pp. 140-145, and commentary, pp. 148-150, this issue.

“Lord Owen has alerted us to the dangers of ill health in heads of government, especially if they strive to keep their illnesses secret. The description of the hubris syndrome is still at an early stage but Owen has provided psychiatrists and other physicians with useful guidance on how to recognise its appearance in persons who hold positions of power. He has also provided advice to doctors caring for such persons.”

“Contempt is one of the more important signs of hubris syndrome. Lying to Parliament or the courts is often a sign of someone in thrall to hubris. In business and banking, collective or corporate hubris is not uncommon as is hubris syndrome among its most powerful leaders. BP, RBS and HBOS need to be the subject of serious case studies for hubris, ‘group think’, tunnel vision, closed minds or silo thinking. There are indications of a neurobiological explanation for the intoxication of power in hubris syndrome.”

For more on Hubris Syndrome, visit daedalustrust.com – the website of the academic and research oriented Trust dedicated to raising awareness of this important leadership and governance issue.