New markers of political and managerial hubris

Gillian Tett reports:

The number of “linguistic biomarkers” associated with hubris was highest for Mr Blair, followed by Thatcher – with Mr Major a long way behind. Hubris increased both in the speeches of Mr Blair and of Thatcher – with a particularly marked rise after periods of war (in the former case, this was the conflict in Iraq; for the latter, the Falklands war.) Mr Blair started using words such as “I”, “me” and “sure” more.

Niamh Brennan and John Conroy, a professor and a graduate student, analysed the letters to shareholders issued by the chief executive of a European bank that expanded very dramatically during the boom and then suffered massive losses. Their analysis showed that during the eight years that he was in power, this chief executive also displayed rising hubris in his speech, with excessive optimism and a growing use of the royal “we”.

“From a total of 148 sentences identified as being good news, 57 per cent was attributed to the chief executive himself, while only 39 per cent was attributed to the company and a further 4 per cent to outside parties,” they write. But the chief executive “did not attribute any bad news to themselves or the company but stated it was the result of external factors.”

This research program is in its early stages.


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