How To Recognize And Avoid Hubris

Last week I took the liberty of drafting a “dream letter” to the 45th President of the United States as he started his new job.

I have more that I want to tell the President, but I didn’t want to overwhelm him in his first week on the job. I’m sure he has a few things to attend to and what I wanted to say is really important so I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle of the inauguration.

I am hopeful that he has digested and embraced the importance of being a leader of moral authority and high character, and he is off to a great start. Because servant leadership is a journey and not a destination, I still have more I would like to share with him. [message type=”custom” width=”100%” start_color=”#FFFFFF” end_color=”#FFFFFF” border=”#fb7200″ color=”# fb7200″]

Letter to the President – Part 2

Dear Mr. President,

I trust you are off to a great start as President of the United States.

I hope you have had an opportunity to read through the book of Nehemiah in the Bible to study his leadership style, as well as a couple of the gospels to learn more about Jesus’ leadership as well. I know if you work to emulate these two, you will have a stellar presidency.

But there is more I would like to share. Today I would like to talk about “hubris”. Hubris is defined as excessive pride or a foolish amount of self-confidence.

Unfortunately, a gravitational pull of leadership or a rise in power can lead to this character downfall. Anyone in your position will need to intentionally battle this tendency.

Signs of Hubris

  • You constantly believe in public praise
  • You allow past successes to inflate your confidence
  • You can’t remember the last time you spoke to a constituent (customer)
  • You use people for power, not power for the people
  • Your team always agrees with you
  • You ignore or alienate your advisors
  • You are more persuasive than honest
  • You find yourself especially irritated when your ideas are challenged or contradicted
  • You enforce rules that you don’t always personally follow
  • When something goes wrong your first default is to ask, “Who is responsible?”

For some additional learning on the dangers of hubris, I would recommend reading the story of Pharaoh in the Bible in Exodus Chapter 5 – Chapter 14. He had hubris, and it did not work out too well for the country he was serving. It is great that we have leaders in the past that we can learn from, either how we should lead (Nehemiah and Jesus) or how we should NOT lead (Pharaoh).

Humility is the only answer for hubris!

Leadership is a responsibility, not an entitlement. God has blessed you with a great deal of responsibility. I recommend that you look at this gift of leadership for our country to be used for God’s glory, and not for personal glory. Maintaining your focus on God will enable you to stay humble and away from hubris.

Your humility will emulate out of your personal foundation, which consists of your purpose, your values, and your personal character. Spend time making investments in these areas and you will be an amazing leader for our country. We will all then be passionately following you. That is what the American people want!

I have one more letter that I would like to write you, but this is enough for this week. I don’t want you to be overloaded on your journey of servant leadership. I pray for you, your family, and your leadership daily.

In great respect,

Mark Deterding[/message]

[su_spacer]Your Reflections

I am uncomfortable even writing to the President about hubris as it feels like I am suffering from hubris for even thinking I have advice for him. But I know I need advisors to keep me grounded in this area, so I assume the President will appreciate it as well.

What are your mechanisms to avoid allowing hubris to set in?

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. 1 Peter 5:5

Mark W. Deterding
MARK Deterding is an author, speaker, consultant, executive coach and the founder of Triune Leadership Services, LLC. His purpose is to work with leaders to help them develop core servant leadership capabilities that allow them to lead at a higher level and enable them to achieve their God-given potential. He has written two books, A Model of Servant Leadership, and Leading Jesus’ Way. With over three decades of experience directing companies and developing leaders, Mark created A Model of Servant Leadership parallel to the principles that Jesus himself illustrated. Working with organizations, leadership teams, and executives one-on-one, he helps bring focus, clarity, and action to make things work. He also conducts training programs to teach faith-based servant leadership principles. His greatest passion is seeing the impact servant leadership has on people’s lives and beyond. Prior to Triune Leadership Services he worked for 35 years in the printing industry holding senior leadership positions at Taylor Corporation, RR Donnelly, and Banta Corporation. He is an accomplished executive with a proven track record for developing purpose-driven; values based teams that drive culture improvement, enhanced employee passion, and improved business results. He is featured in Ken Blanchard’s book “Leading at a Higher Level”, and has been a featured speaker for the Ken Blanchard Companies Executive Forum in both 2007 and 2011. Mark lives in Alexandria, Minnesota with his wife Kim. They have two sons, two daughter-in-laws, and three grandchildren, so far. To find out more about Mark and his work, visit Triune Leadership Services via the Link adjacent his Photo above.


  1. I don’t talk much about hubris, but I do talk a lot about confidence and how confidence doesn’t translate to competency. We need to have confidence to get things started, people motivated, and getting things to the finish line. But, when it’s about doing the actual work, we need to be both capable and competent.

    Hubris can be leveraged to establish a new vision, set a new direction, and to inspire people more so than just plain confidence can. But too much hubris diffuses capabilities and competencies through too high expectations, personality friction, and politics.

  2. It occurred to me as I read this ‘letter’ that here is something I’ve never thought about before. When considering the positional power we recognize it being at a high level that almost requires that the leader look down on followers. It also occurred to me that to stay elevated in that positional power, the person would need to be continually pulled upward toward ever higher position to avoid the inevitable plummet. Those signs of hubris you identified would be tools for elevating ego and sustaining high positional power.

    • Jane, you are so right. The need and and desire for positional power can be an addiction that is a slippery slope. An ego needs to be fed all the time! Humility and an open dependence on God’s help is the answer.



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