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The Learning Leader - How to Avoid Hubris

December 04 2017 - by Kiesha Farnum, Consultant, Inter-American Development Bank

What is hubris? Hubris refers to an exaggerated or excessive sense of self-confidence, arrogance or pride. In Greek mythology/tragedy, hubris leads one to defy the gods and becomes one’s nemesis – the architect of their demise. As leaders, how can we avoid hubris? There are several ways but today we will focus on just one - continuous learning.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy said it best “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."  

Becoming a learning leader is a cyclic, iterative process. It is evolutionary and purposefully engineered to help an individual acquire a higher sense of consciousness, influence and connectedness. The learning leader is dedicated to personal development and takes steps daily to nurture this process.

Let us look at three (3) ways continuous learning can help us to cultivate the persona of a learning leader and avoid hubris:

  1. Read, research, read! Try to make reading a part of your daily routine. Reading at least a chapter or two per day from books that promote conscious leadership, your area of expertise, personal development, spirituality, organizational psychology, inspirational biographies or just on a topic completely outside your comfort zone broadens the mind. Reading generates ideas, exercises the mind and broadens the realm of one’s experience without ever having to leave the comfort of one’s home. Cannot find time to read a book? How about listening to e-books on the way to and from the office. The adage “where there is a will there is a way” comes to mind – carve out the time to read as it is a critical characteristic of a learning leader.


Also tied to reading is research – listen, watch and take the time to delve deeper into the things that interest you and are related to your work. As a learning leader you should be excited about expanding your knowledge, seeking ways to apply what you learn in your work environment and influence others to do the same. Research can also be a tool for personal reflection. As you discover new things, you challenge your existing paradigms and constructs and you create space for either solidifying long held beliefs or assumptions or letting them go in favor of new ones. When you embrace this avenue of self-development this should become obvious to those you lead and you are likely to inspire a similar drive in them.


  1. Formal and informal training also facilitates continuous learning. In many societies and professions around the world, including in the Caribbean region, formal training is often equated with tertiary education. However, we can all identify at least one person with a master’s degree and/or PhD in a leading position who are not considered a good leader. While advance degrees do not ensure effective leadership, there is a need for periodic but consistent interaction, positive input, and reevaluation. New knowledge and paradigms are continuously evolving to meet the new challenges of the workplace and the future of work. While one cannot subscribe to every school of thought, if we do not evolve, how can we expect to be effective leaders? Many leadership models rightfully place a high value on introspection and self-evaluation but equally important to leadership development is being evaluated by those we lead. Structured trainings give us an opportunity to bounce ideas of likeminded individuals, learn from the experience of others, birth innovative ideas and stimulate our growth as progressive leaders.


  1. Observation is a form of learning and it goes hand-in-hand with effective leadership. You cannot expect to know the needs of the people you lead, understand and anticipate their challenges, understand how they interact with you, each other and the environment your leadership creates, if you are not observant. Many leaders make the mistake of always being the loudest voice in the room. In doing so, they miss opportunities to get significant input from team members, who may fear sharing their ideas and challenges. It is important to be observant, listen to what is not said, look at the non-verbal cues – facial expressions and body language. Take the time to observe the way people in your care interact with each other and with you. As you become more conscious and self-aware, learn to listen and trust your instincts.  In the workplace, no two persons are the same. Therefore, being observant helps us to interpret actions, identify strengths, isolate needs, define challenges, identify what motivates persons and helps us to build better, more effective teams.


So, ask yourself, am I carving out the time to be a learning leader?

How can I facilitate an encouraging and learning environment for those in my care?

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Julie Meeks - Reply

An excellent reminder to continue to learn, and to encourage learning as an important part of leadership.  I appreciated the suggestions for ways to accomplish this.

I was especially interested in how this topic was introduced, with a definition of hubris. I had not consciously linked hubris with continuous learning before, and find this very interesting.  I look forward to more on hubris, avoiding in oneself and recognizing and coping with in others.  

Kiesha Farnum

Thanks for your feedback Julie. 

One of the major ways to avoid hubris as a leader is by cultivating humility and empathy. I would definitely like to touch on these in another blog as I think they are critical leadership characteristics. They are also the most under valued and perceived by some as weaknesses. I am looking forward to exploring how a leader can cultivate humility and empathy in a balanced manner that takes into consideration the challanges of management and the "real" world of work. 

I wanted to start with the learning leader however as I think that continuous learning (reading, research and observation) contributes to humility and empathy as we are constantly questioning what we already know and exploring paradigms and people from varying perspectives. I was recently at a conference and one of the speakers said that when we get to "know the other" (that is, truely understand someone or something) we can then assign it its proper value and care for it. I think continuous learning helps us to "know" as leaders and in turn we assign the proper value to our people and resources and take care of it appropirately. 

Raynardo - Reply


Great article Keisha 

It is a definite reminder of how to keep on course. 


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Annette - Reply

Very interesting. Thank you.

As leaders, we become bogged down with daily routines so much that we dedicate less time to things that are essential to our continuos growth without realizing it.

I especially agree that when we get to know something or someone, we can more easily and objectively assign a deserved value as you alluded to in your response to Julie. This value can then be enhanced through the relationship you have with your team members, recognizing that each is unique in his/her way. I look forward to part 2. Thanks again.

Kiesha Farnum - Reply

Now I must write part 2 !! :)

Very good point Annette. We can only give to others when we have something to give - if our "leadership self-development tanks" are empty we cant expect to have anything to give to those in our care. We need to get our "top ups" through continuous learning.


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Eltonia Anthony - Reply

Great thoughts! 

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