Wednesday, 5 July 2017


  By V K Talithaya

The image of grand leaders with great qualities such as charisma, charm, the ability to inspire, persuasiveness, breadth of vision, willingness to take risks, grandiose aspirations and bold self-confidence is associated with many of the successful entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley. But, this image is showing signs of cracks lately. What gleans through the cracks is another side to this image, a picture that is engendered by these very qualities. This is the picture of impetuosity, a reluctance to listen to others, or digest well meaning advice, impulsiveness, recklessness resulting from an air of infallibility and lack of attention to details - in short, the picture mired in 'hubris syndrome'. 
  'Hubris Syndrome' is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader. But, when hubris syndrome becomes the part of the larger culture of the society, it has more serious consequences than individual frailties. How else can we explain the series of recent events in Silicon Valley, of venerable leaders discarding the veil of political correctness and displaying the true nature of the arrogance of power and success? Uber's Travis Kalanick is forced to quit despite being the builder of the most valuable start-up because of unacceptable behaviour. Hubris seems to be all pervasive in Uber's management culture. As a result Uber is in the midst of several crises such as claims of sexual harassment, a lawsuit over alleged theft of intellectual property, departure of a number of senior executives and the probe into use of illegal software to track regulators. Recently, David Bonderman, Uber Technologies Inc director, resigned from the company's board following a remark seen as offensive to women, which he made during an Uber staff meeting. Having two women in the Board, he said, would mean more talking!

Nor is this a syndrome limited to Uber. The recent New York Times story on women's voices against what it calls 'the culture of harassment' of women is an eye-opener to the Valley's hubris syndrome. The article goes on to say, "The new accounts underscore how sexual harassment in the tech start-up ecosystem goes beyond one firm and is pervasive and ingrained. Now their speaking out suggests a culture shift in Silicon Valley, where such predatory behaviour had often been murmured about but rarely exposed".

A new survey by Stanford University researchers has revealed that nearly two-thirds of women working in Silicon Valley tech firms have experienced incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Of the 60 per cent of women who had experienced "unwanted sexual advances", 65 per cent said these advances had come from one of their superiors, according to the Elephant in the Valley survey. For half these women, such an advance had happened more than once. One in three said they had been made to fear for their personal safety because of work-related circumstances, while 60 per cent of those who reported such harassment were dissatisfied with the course of action taken after reporting it.

Silicon Valley is the very epitome of success, and it is a victim of the pitfalls of success.

America is a society committed to politically correct behaviour, particularly with regard to sexual harassment, sexual or racial discrimination, child abuse etc. The problem with ';politically correct' behaviour is that such behaviour is hardly skin-deep. Behaviour is 'correct' because it needs to be, not because one believes in its correctness. Politically correct behaviour is often neither anchored in the person's deep seated beliefs nor in his emotions. Here, then, is the rub: when a behaviour is skin-deep, the real emotions sometimes show up, throwing the veil of political correctness asunder. It is not external circumstances or pressure. The challenge lies within the individual. It is what we think deep within ourselves that shapes our authentic behaviour. Arnold Toynbee quotes the poet George Meredith in his Study of History:
"In tragic life God wot,            
No villain need be! Passions spin the plot:
We are betrayed by what is false within".
And again, he quotes C.F.Volney who says, "the source of calamities ...resides within Man himself; he carries it in his heart".

Hubris Syndrome causes certain changes in the brains of the extremely successful people, the leaders which in turn makes them suffer from a number of undesirable characteristics. losing touch with reality, taking excessive pride in one's actions, lack of empathy towards others, taking decisions or acting without deliberations because of overconfidence are some of these characteristics. No wonder, in the Darwinian society where nothing is valued more than success - and success at any cost - the individual's self-esteem overreaches him. A sense of infallibility overtakes. Finesse and niceties are discarded as unnecessary frills distorting communication. Directness of communication yields no space for emotional distractions and vacillations of parental values.

A few words of advice by Mathew Arnold may help our very successful, lonely leaders:
" not possible while the individual remains isolated: the individual is obliged, under the pain of being stunted and enfeebled in his own development if he disobeys, to carry others along with him in his march towards perfection, to be continually doing all he can to enlarge and increase the volume of the human stream sweeping thitherward".
By V K Talithaya

On 7/05/2017


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