Hubris syndrome: When power corrupts you

The CEO of a corporation or the President of a country are popular poster candidates for power. In daily life we have many examples of people with power around us. Most noteworthy being the teachers and the police personal.

Generally, the more rule based an activity is, the more common it is for us to find structures of hierarchy. In traditional hierarchies, the king or a feudal lord have power consolidated in their hands. A democratic system can replace traditional hierarchies but it cannot totally eliminate it. In times of crisis, power does tend to concentrate in the hands of a few people.

Let us explore some dimension of this issue.



What is the Hubris syndrome?

It is a condition where people in power change for the worse as they come to enjoy increasing power and influence. The syndrome causes certain changes to the brains of these leaders which in turn makes them suffer from a number of undesirable qualities; including

~ losing touch with reality, 
~ taking excessive pride in their actions,
~ displaying lesser empathy towards other people, 
~ taking arrogant decisions or actions without sufficient thought.

Coined by former British Foreign Secretary David Owen, who studied behavioural changes in various world leaders and presented his findings in 2007 (Source)

What causes these change?

Ever squashed a bug just for the heck of it? Did it make you feel superior? You wanted to try it again?

We have desires, quite a lot of them. While it is not possible to address all of them, power and influence can make it seem possible. Leaders can name a street after them or build a statue to glorify themselves. Furthermore they may also wage a war in order to occupy a country or a region. For the most part these alluring activities are aimed to further their image as an effective leader. 

As the responsibility of being a leader grows, many decisions are taken to please the loyal support base. Programs are undertaken to send a strong message of good governance and love for the nation. Regardless of their actual efficacy, the underlying purpose is to win appreciation from the loyal base of followers. In other words, leaders do what needs to be done to make them popular. Additionally, this helps them to hold on to power a little longer and also to enlarge their sphere of political influence.

Holding on to power

Leaders can crack under the pressure to perform and present results. As a result, frustration can take them down the path of one hasty decision after another. Much of what they wish to address gets ignored. Furthermore their sense of insecurity of losing power only grows stronger. Correspondingly, it makes them more prone to stress and mistrust.

In addition, leaders also start to neglect advice from experts when they get over-confident over the string of recent successes. Consequently, they become more prone to do costly mistakes as a result of being closed to suggestions.

Most noteworthy example in recent times would be President Donald Trump's decision to end DACA. A program that protects young undocumented immigrants, known as “dreamers”, from being deported. This decision can very well be seen as a move to appease the Trump base of supporters.

Trump administration is being criticized in other areas such as 'relations with Russia.' This act can be viewed as a way to win some credibility.  Mr. Trump can use this to project himself as of being the custodian of the 'Great American dream,' something very important for a political leader.



Abuse of power

Some other contributing factors

When the case of dysfunctional personality sets in, a person most likely assumes that everyone around him is trying to put them out of power. Mistrust, most of all, starts to rule his/her mind. A paranoid leader views the citizens expression of distress even on genuine issue as an act of disloyalty. The leader starts to feel that they are above morality and that they do anything to demand loyal followers.

Brutal acts and harsh decisions are justified by the leader in the name of the 'greater good' it brings to the nation as a whole. The catch phrase 'A leader can do no wrong' would start to be in vogue. A totalitarian regime would start to gain shape as the democratic systems would gradually erode.

Power starts to intoxicate the leader as they start to enjoy the limelight. They do their best to fulfill their 'egocentric' desires. For example, amass huge fortunes and live a super luxurious life at the cost of common men and women. This only ultimately fulfills the prophecy 'power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'

Checks and balances

The first step would be to strongly entrench into the minds and hearts of the people the idea of civil liberties. To function effectively a democratic nation needs such rights. Thereby individuals will exercise civil liberties in public or private situations. Surely this can be an effective way to prevent abuse of authority. Records, procedures and transparency in administrative decisions can be the next level of safeguards to prevent abuse of power.


1. What makes a good leader?

2. Leaders tend to get corrupt, how can we prevent it?

3. Leaders neglect morality in the name of 'national interest', is it the right way?

4. Has power corrupted you, ever? As a class monitor or a moderator on a social media platform?


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12 Replies to “Hubris syndrome: When power corrupts you”

  1. Every person seeks for power or some kind of it, in most cases person who gets it gets “corrupted”. The pressure is too big.

  2. Well, it’s hard for anyone to not want attention or use their powers for themselves when they have it.
    I feel this particularly deeply when I was a mod. I wanted people to know about it, to use the powers I had. It’s particularly impressive of users who are not affected.

  3. Good leader who cares the most about everyone under his leadership. They are the reason for his leadership because of that they can prevent his corruption.
    The power never corrupted me ever because it is not a sword in other’s face. So as the best leaders in the world.

  4. I prefer servant leadership :“Servant leadership turns the power pyramid upside down; instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people” the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

  5. 1. What makes a good leader?

    Reliable, cool under pressure, care about the people he/she leads. Order is important, and the way they maintain this order is even more important. Rule through respect and love, and the people will follow you to the end of the world. Rule through fear, and eventually they will stab you in the back.

    2. Leaders tend to get corrupt, how can we prevent it?

    It really depends on the person in my opinion. Power makes people crazy, obsessed. Need something that will keep them on the right path. What, i don’t know, once again, it depends greatly on the person.

    3. Leaders neglect morality in the name of ‘national interest’, is it the right way?

    Somebody has to make the tough decisions, and the right choice not always the easisest, or the morally acceptable.

    4. Has power corrupted you, ever? As a class monitor or a moderator on a social media platform?

    Not really. I never yearned for power, i’m not a leader type .

    Great thread Dev, good job ~

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