Icarus Syndrome: When Leaders Melt Their Wax Flying Too Close To The Sun
Antithesis Of Leadership
Greek mythology described how Daedalus fell into disfavour with the King of Crete and was condemned with his son, Icarus, to live inside the labyrinth on an island. In a bid to escape, Daedalus cleverly crafted two pairs of wings made of wax and feathers. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, as the wax would melt; and, not to fly too low, as the feathers could get wet in the sea. However, Icarus became intoxicated with his new-found power and became reckless. He soared higher and higher towards the sun. Once his wax melted, he plummeted and drowned, leaving a cluster of feathers floating in the sea.
Leaders With Icarus Syndrome
In organisations, the Icarus syndrome characterises leaders immersed in the grandiose of power. Blinded by hubris, their misguided enthusiasm makes them contemptuous of opinions, undertake unnecessary risks and disregard limits. Capable of hearing only their own inner voice, they:
· Display narcissistic behaviour
· Harbour feelings of omnipotence
· Become reckless and restless
· Possess excessive confidence in one’s own judgement
· Ignore damaging consequences of their decisions
Wilful Narcissism On The Wings Of Power Obsession
We see the Icarus syndrome in Carlos Ghosn, the once-powerful deposed CEO of the Renault-Nissan alliance who was indicted on charges of misconduct; under-reporting about $80 million in compensation and income at Nissan. In late 2019, Ghosn slipped out of Japan and fled to Lebanon. The fallout has been seismic for Nissan.
The recent scrutiny of Mark Zuckerberg, the chairman and CEO of Facebook, illustrate that there are limits to power. The company with a market cap of over US$1 trillion is plagued by troubles that largely centre around “fake news” and concerns over what the company does with information that it tracks.
An article in Inc.com points out that Mark Zuckerberg is a true believer. In his own world, it means that he genuinely cannot understand why people are so concerned about fake news, privacy or being stalked on the internet.
Over-ambition, The Path To Self Destruction
The Icarus syndrome is a pattern where over-ambition exceeds personal limits leading to a backlash.
Leaders who are willing to humble themselves and listen to uncomfortable truths can avoid making grave mistakes that put their corporation at risk.
They do well not to “fly too close to the sun” in order to avoid the fate of Icarus.