Leadership, Hubris, and Working with Unknown Unknowns

Tyler Sack
April 5, 2017
One of my favourite hobbies is reading. I like to create two reading lists a year that are made up of different topics that I normally wouldn’t read on my own. In order to get away from the familiar, I seek out recommendations from people I know and admire whose interests and backgrounds are different than mine. Right now my current list includes:
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
The Return of History by Jennifer Welsh
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
The Break by Katherena Vermette
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green, & Robert Galford
It’s a habit I’ve committed to for the past few years when I finished my education and realized how much I didn’t know. Upon finishing my last list there were some notes I’d written down because I thought they’d be relevant to my work here at Orenda. Some were interesting topics or research I wanted to look into more closely, others were tips on leadership and teamwork that will undoubtedly be useful throughout my career. One of the ideas that I’ve been unable to shake, however, is on hubris. Specifically, when a company’s culture or leadership seem to consciously sabotage their success indirectly by failing to prepare for the worst.
There are familiar examples of hubris found in scripture, mythology, and literature. Though I found more references to Icarus while researching, I prefer to use the story of the Tortoise and the Hare to illustrate how excessive pride or arrogance is what ultimately caused the Hare’s downfall.
I remember hearing the story for the first time in elementary school. My teacher taught the class about the moral of the story and how the lesson was focused on the positive outcome for the Tortoise - how hard work and persistence is what led to a victory over the Hare.  There was some attention on the Hare, and I vaguely remember listening to classmates argue that we shouldn’t brag about accomplishments, it was a child’s interpretation of humility. It’s possible that if the Hare was more humble then there may not have been a race, however, a lack of humility is not what caused the Hare to lose. The Hare knew it was faster than the Tortoise and neglected to consider any outcome where losing was even possible. That feeling of being unbeatable caused the Hare to not race seriously, becoming careless to the point of taking a nap in the middle of a competition.
This is partly why I’ve been stuck on the subject of hubris lately, it’s not necessarily about keeping our pride or ego in check as much as we’ve got to be mindful not to deceive ourselves into becoming complacent. The issue here is that in order to avoid becoming hubristic like the Hare, we’ve got to be attuned to the problems we cannot observe. If you aren’t working to uncover problems in your blind spots then you may risk the possibility of assuming that problems don’t exist.
So how do we know what we don’t know? Overcoming this problem should never be an individual effort. The recommendation is that leaders surround themselves with people prepared to have difficult conversations and talk about uncomfortable things in an environment that enables people to disagree but continue to be encouraging.
Part of the work we do here at Orenda involves explaining insight into a brand’s reputation. I’ve had conversations with people who had a vague idea of what was being said about their company online, in a way, Orenda has shown people the problems hiding in their blind spots. I guess that’s why I’ve been stuck on the idea hubris lately, offenders suffer unintended consequences that were preventable had leaders been made aware so they would not eventually overestimate their competence or capability. I’m coming to the realization that part of our service is to help people to overcome hubris by candidly telling them how their reputation measures up.
Prevention then, may be in locating and listening to the problems or criticisms that you wouldn’t normally consider or even be made aware of. I anticipate Orenda being used as that tool, an objective measure that doesn’t necessarily counter marketing, but helps a brand from marketing themselves into obliviousness.