Kate Nicholas

Jul 4, 2023, 8:30 AM

Leadership and the dangers of hubris

By Kate Nicholas

What do Achilles, Odysseus and Icarus (plus some contemporary political leaders) have in common? I am sure it’s possible to come up with a whole list of possibilities, but their most dangerous common shortcoming is probably their hubris; their exaggerated self-confidence in their ability to succeed entirely on the basis of their own talent and strength.

Hubris is a puffed up and excessive version of the sin of pride that our creator so abhors because it denies the fundamental truth that we are made to be in relationship. As Solomon – a man gifted with uncommon wisdom – points out in Ecclesiastes:

‘Two are better than one,

because they have a good return on their labour.

If either of them falls down,

one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls

and has no one to help them up (4: 9-10)

Let go of control

This principle was illustrated vividly in the life of Moses, a man called by God who tried to shoulder the affairs and issues of two million people on his own. When his father-in-law Jethro questioned him on the wisdom of this he said, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” (Exodus 18: 15-16)

In response, his father-in-law told him, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (v. 19) Jethro admired Moses’ handling of the exodus, but advised him not to micromanage, and instead to appoint others as officials over the people and to only take on the most difficult cases (what has become known as the Jethro Principle). Now I am not accusing Moses of hubris, but if he had not had the humility to let go control it is likely that he would have burnt out long before handing over the baton to Joshua.

Trust your team

Even Jesus, the only man on earth who could be excused a little hubris, saw the wisdom of building a strong team. First of all he gathered around him his senior leadership team of 12 disciples. Then he started delegating tasks; for example, the handing out of fishes and loaves to miraculously feed 5,000 people. Even though Jesus could have done every delegated task better himself, he wasn’t afraid to give authority away to others. In Luke 9, for, example, he gave the disciples power and authority to drive out demons, and went on to give his authority to 72 of his followers. He knew that mistakes would be made but he wasn’t afraid to trust his team.

The reality is that leadership requires the self-awareness to be able to know and leverage your strengths but also to recognise your weaknesses. None of us (except for Jesus) are capable of doing everything. God gives people specific gifts for a reason and no one of these gifts – including leadership – can achieve God’s mission alone. As the Apostle Paul pointed out, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?… If they were all one part, where would the body be?” (1 Cor 12: 17-20).

Know your limits

Being a real leader means having the humility to identify and encourage those who have strengths in areas where you may be at your weakest and building a team of people around you who can undertaken tasks that you may fail at. The best teams aren’t made up of people made in a leader’s image, but rather of a diverse group of individuals with different skills, talents, personalities and backgrounds.

Great leaders are those who have the self-awareness to understand their strengths and their weaknesses, the courage to fight their inner micromanager (the voice inside our head that tells us that only we can do something properly) and the humility to build and grow a strong team of people with complementary skills.


Kate Nicholas

Kate Nicholas is a best-selling Christian author, preacher and consultant with Action Planning and, in her latest book, Soul’s Scribe, Kate looks at how to understand and share your “soul story” or faith journey. Find out more about her books, TV show and online courses at https://www.katenicholas.co.uk

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