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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.           Vol. 31, No. 10 * May 24, 1999

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'Hubris – Arrogant Pride'

One of the many reasons county governments are key elements in the nation’s federal system is that counties provide direct services required by our most vulnerable citizens. For example, in much of the country, it is counties that provide social services, indigent health care, mental health care, law enforcement, courts and on and on.

The dependence of people on these services carries with it a very great risk. The employees who make these programs work may have very great authority over the people who need their help. The power means that people’s lives can change for the better when a caring county employee makes a difference by a prompt and effective intervention.

On the other hand, the citizens’ lives can be made much worse and much more frustrating by encountering a person who does not appear to care and who acts in an arrogant manner.

Arrogance, also known as hubris, is a very serious management problem. This is especially true if it is supervisors or managers themselves who display this illness. After all, by definition, directors and managers have the authority to give orders and to expect that their orders will be obeyed. Most counties are relatively complicated organizations with many rules and hierarchies. They are, in other words, bureaucracies.

The word bureaucrat can connote the kind of arrogant, unfeeling uncaring, do the minimum attitude that the Doctor is concerned about. This view is, of course, grossly unfair because most county employees don’t suffer from this virus. The HR Doctor recently wrote about the "rule of the vital few" in a column published on Feb. 1. The idea is to reduce the amount of time we spend on trivial items and don’t contribute to organizational or personal efficiency and productivity.

Instead, we should concentrate on improvements in the area of the vital few where major differences can be made.

Begin with a major commitment, starting with elected officials, who themselves may suffer from this problem, to look in the mirror and determine the extent to which their own attitudes and conduct may be perceived as uncaring or cavalier.

Next, take to heart the concept of improved customer service. The key to customer service and for that matter, to the cure of hubris, is a strong and regular dose of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

For the staff in a human resources office, for example, it is important to recognize that the county actually hires far fewer people than the number who apply for work. Therefore, most people leave HR without a job. However, the standing rule should be that no one leaves HR without their dignity. The staff should take the time to demonstrate a caring attitude by helping the applicant. This could involve pointing out where other job opportunities may be.

A few moments could be spent looking at the job application of the person and making suggestions. The staff needs to understand that "there, but for fortune," any of us could be homeless or indigent or suffer from some event that turns our life around.

Create a "caring award" to recognize employees who demonstrate these qualities. Also include this element of customer service (i.e., "no hubris") in staff training and as a subject for the agenda of staff meetings.

It is especially important that the counties’ vital few, namely managers and supervisors, receive particular attention in the treatment plan to eliminate hubris. When a manager displays this kind of arrogance, the illness spreads like a virus. Conversely, when the manager is the role model for caring and concern, the chances of a hubris outbreak are greatly reduced.

The HR Doctor has written about whining and rudeness, as well as discrimination, harassment and violence, in the past. It should be no surprise at all that these workplace liabilities all have a common root in arrogance and misuse of power.

The good news is that, once we understand this phenomenon, we can realize that there is also a common approach to reduce the risks and the spread of the problem. The common root is a concentrated effort to eliminate hubris from the organization.

You can contact the HR Doctor at the e-mail address below or by fax at 954/796-9495.

Best Wishes,
The HR Doctor
e-mail at

(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him at Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)


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