Courage Not Fear, Humility Not Hubris

3 min read • May 06, 2013 • Guest Post

Dick is the founder and Managing Principal of The Cross Partnership III, a twenty-year-old, Boston-based, “hands-on” consulting and turn-around firm focused on improving the operating and financial performance of businesses owned by financial sponsors. Over the past decade, Dick has served as an interim President/CEO, leading successful business transitions in eight companies over the past twelve years.

Observe a business owner’s behavior long enough and you’ll discern a pretty accurate picture of what drives him or her.

Business schools would like for us all to discover that the answer is profit.  But profit’s seldom what’s really driving an owner.  Sure, it’s what we always talk about.  But profit’s a second level motivator for most of us.  It’s usually a surrogate for something deeper … and often uncomfortable to talk about …. that actually drives how we think and behave in our businesses.  And it’s that deeper motivator that determines our effectiveness.  And our ability to deliver profit.

The punch line?  What motivates many people running businesses is poison to achievement of their intentions for success.  The ones I see most are Fear, and its near-opposite, Hubris.  Start looking, and you’ll see them too.  At the top.  Particularly in underperforming businesses.

Fear is our preservation instinct. It’s impossible to shed completely.  Nor do we want to.  But many of us  need to to bring it into better balance as a good thing.

Fear’s most destructive where it’s least visible.  Not when failing to meet an obvious challenge.  But rather when we hesitate to act on things that we believe, but aren’t absolutely certain, could be right for our businesses. Or when we choose not to shoulder resistance to altering how things have been done in the past.  Or when we shy away from reasonable risk to avoid embarrassment or consequences if we’re wrong.

The solution?

Adjust your thinking to see being wrong, within reasonable boundaries of risk, as the sign of your courage, and you’ll start thinking differently.  Courage and the ability to see things others don’t are why you get paid more than anyone else in your company.  It’s hard.  It’s risky.  It’s important.  It’s what makes the difference between great companies and all the rest.  And it’s no one else’s job.

Follow through on that job and people will start seeing you in a brighter light.  As an adventurer.  Someone never satisfied with the status quo.  Always pushing for new things.  Some of which don’t work.  But picking yourself up with a smile every time, and heading off again.  Somebody exciting to be around.  Because you’re not timid.  And because you don’t over respond to fear.

Hubris, on the other hand, means extreme pride or arrogance.  It’s also is a natural instinct.  Though only among social animals. Unlike fear, high hubris and the domination of others that it fosters, often feels good to the perpetrator.  But like fear, hubris in the extreme is a debilitating trait.  Poison for building followership.  And worse of all, the worst perpetrators usually fail to recognize it in themselves.

Fortunately, like fear, there also are pretty simple ways to bring hubris into check as a positive force.  One that turns people toward us rather than away.  If we want to.

With hubris, you’ll need a trusted partner.  Someone with the security and guts to give you the truth.  The raw, tough, make-you-angry kind of truth.  Ask them to help you to see how you are seen by others.

Go slow.  Tackle only one attribute you’d like to change about how you’re seen by others to at a time.  Work on it, with feedback from your partner, until it starts to feel natural.  Then ask for another.

Fear and hubris are insidious problems.  They’re seldom evident to people at the top.   Partially because no one’s going to tell the boss that she’s insufferably arrogant.  Or that he’s a coward.  But it’s also because we have so few credible models for how to handle ourselves effectively in jobs at the top.

Overcoming fear or hubris …. and nearly all of us have some to overcome …..  really isn’t too hard.  And getting it done has big impacts for your business.

If you’ve got the courage and humility do something about it.

Make sure and tune-in to the podcast with Dick tomorrow.


Guest Post