A man standing in front of a window looking out.

Most people take comfort in working for and with confident, self-assured leaders. But sometimes, the people in charge may become a little too self-confident, too certain of their own judgment, and too convinced of their strategic brilliance. Their egos seem to take over, and this can be especially disappointing if these individuals were more open to constructive criticism in the past.

If you’ve noticed your manager becoming more autocratic, intolerant or arrogant over time, they may have developed hubris syndrome. Individuals with this condition have let power go to their heads, and they may not even notice the bad impression they’re making or that their leadership skills have deteriorated as a result.

What is hubris syndrome?

Hubris is when someone develops an embellished view of themselves, resulting in excessive self-confidence to the point where they think they’re infallible. A boss with hubris syndrome will be incapable of listening to the advice of others if it conflicts with their own predetermined plans or beliefs. They will have everyone walking around on eggshells, afraid to do or say anything that might contradict the boss – and possibly put their jobs in jeopardy.

There are similarities between hubris syndrome and narcissistic personality disorder. But the latter is a recognized mental health condition that can be traced back to childhood. Hubris syndrome, on the other hand, seems to result from the circumstances someone finds themselves in. For example, if someone has been a leader for a long time, and they’ve been successful in that role and praised frequently for it, they may get a magnified view of their abilities. 

Which DISC personalities are at risk of hubris syndrome?

Anyone can become intoxicated by having too much power for too long. But in the DISC personality system, two categories of people may be more susceptible:

1: Drive types

Drive types express traits commonly found in strong and confident leadership. They demand a lot of themselves just as they demand a lot from others, but they believe in their abilities and aren’t afraid to be assertive and take charge as a result. They see themselves as natural-born leaders and will boldly step forward to assume command when things need to get done quickly. When they are at their best, they will inspire their employees to follow their lead and trust in their vision.

But when a Drive type holds a leadership position for a long time, they can become seduced by their accomplishments. They can become overly enamored with what they perceive as their “special qualities” to the point where they develop a sense of superiority.

This is far from an inevitable outcome, and won’t happen to Drive types who are well-adjusted and make an active effort to dial down their dominance. But if their self-esteem suffered a bit in the past, they may become overly attached to their accomplishments and overcompensate by replacing their past insecurities with feelings of grandiosity and invincibility.

As their hubris expands into a full-grown syndrome, the Drive-type boss may also become more domineering and controlling in their relationships with their employees or subordinates, as their confidence in themselves gradually morphs into a sense that they can do no wrong. This attitude is actually rooted in a fragile ego, which their newfound sense of infallibility helps to prop up.

2: Clarity types

The Clarity type is someone who is very precise, organized and detail-oriented. They prefer structure and routine and are not comfortable if asked to improvise or ad-lib. They are not known to be overly friendly or people-oriented, and they are the type who will strive to obtain their employee’s respect rather than their friendship.

In contrast to the assertive Drive type, the Clarity-type leader will rise to a position of authority based on their steadiness and efficiency. In a balanced and healthy state, Clarity types will function as highly effective facilitators. They know how to keep their employees focused and motivated, and they create a work environment where professionalism and dedication are expected and rewarded.

But Clarity-type leaders can be quite hard to please. Over time, they may become disillusioned with employees who fail to meet their high standards. They may become convinced that their organizational skills and attention to detail are the only things preventing their workplace from descending into chaos, which strokes their ego and boosts their self-confidence. They may start giving themselves most or all of the credit for the achievements of the teams they lead. And as their sense of their own importance grows, they may become increasingly impatient with the faults they perceive in their employees.

In the grips of hubris, a Clarity-type boss can become rigid, inflexible and virtually impossible to please. Their crisp, no-nonsense way of interacting with others may transform into impatience, irritability and intolerance. Once their hubris syndrome is in full bloom, they may be unable to accept advice, admit to their mistakes or properly credit others for contributing to their successes.

Four signs of hubris syndrome in managers

So how can you know if your boss has succumbed to hubris syndrome? Here are four signs that will reveal the truth:

#1 They overlook obvious problems with team cohesion and productivity.

Teams led by bosses with hubris syndrome suffer from a lack of trust and from poor communication and coordination. The decision-making process tends to become autocratic, which undermines the confidence of team members who are afraid to speak up and offer their opinions. This breakdown in team effectiveness will be clear to you, but from your boss’s perspective everything will seem just fine. If you raise these issues with them they will usually react with disbelief and dismissal.

#2 They tend to be extremely inpatient.

Demanding employers and managers can lose their patience if there are delays, mistakes, misunderstandings or miscommunications that have a clear impact on workplace productivity and performance. But bosses who suffer from hubris syndrome will lose their cool over the smallest errors or missteps, castigating subordinates with anger, sarcasm or disrespectful body language.

#3 They interpret all critiques or suggestions as a personal attack.

You may walk on pins and needles around an employer who exhibits the symptoms of hubris syndrome. You know they can be prickly, judgmental and prideful, and so you try not to incur their wrath. But as their hubris deepens they will react defensively or with hostility to even the slightest suggestion that they’ve made a bad decision, or that a different approach may get a better result. No matter how polite or deferential you are, they will still treat you like an enemy.

#4 It wasn’t always this way.

This is something that cannot be stressed enough. If you’ve been around your employer or manager for a while, you may be able to remember a time when they were more easygoing and approachable, and democratic and tolerant in their relations with others. No one is born with hubris syndrome – the symptoms will gradually develop over time.

So your boss has hubris syndrome: What should you do?

When your boss is no longer in a position of leadership, their hubris may begin to fade away. But since you have to deal with them as they are right now, this is a problem you have to face. Below are some suggestions for how to cope:

#1. Understand that this is not about you.

Do not take your employer’s hubris personally. It is an expression of their insecurities and ego, and not the result of anything you have done.

#2. Stay calm and focused.

You are still accountable for your work performance, so do not let yourself get distracted from your goals by an outburst of anger or impatience on the part of your boss. If you take care of your own performance, that may be the best way to get through this.

#3. Seek feedback from another manager.

If you have a relationship of trust with another manager, consider asking them for feedback on your performance and work approach. They may help you get some perspective so that you can be sure it is not poor performance or misguided actions that are riling up your boss.

#4. Keep yourself open to opportunities.

When working under a boss with hubris syndrome, it is easy to get discouraged and feel that all hope for career progression within that organization is lost. But remember, this is not a reflection of your own abilities or potential, and there may be other opportunities out there for you. Keep an eye out for new job openings and networking opportunities. The situation won’t magically get better if you wait, and life is too short to let your boss’s attitude hold you back or get you down.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.