The Daedalus Syndrome

June 2, 2023

In Greek mythology, there is a story about Daedalus, who made wings to fly across the sea. His wings were connected with wax, and as he was flying higher and higher, getting closer and closer to the sun, the wax dissolved, and he plunged into the sea and drowned.

Some successful executives, usually founders of companies, are used to managing in an authoritarian way. That's how they built the company from start-up to where it is successful, but as the company grows, and they do not change their style, the more successful they are, the more arrogant they become. They stop listening to people who want to warn them of the pitfalls and increasingly lose their grip on reality.

Because they succeeded in building a company from nothing, they might believe that they cannot fail, that they can walk through the rain and not get wet. They challenge their destiny more and more, push the envelope more and more, as if looking for where the limits are. They find the limits when they cross them, like Daedalus did, flying higher and higher, trying to see how high he can go, he found the limits when he crossed them, drowning.

Arrogance, driven by success, is the legacy of people who, in the beginning, don't believe in themselves but, through their unexpected success, develop the arrogance that they cannot be destroyed.

And that is probably what happened to Julius Caesar, a formidable Roman leader, who met a tragic end when he was assassinated by a group of senators, including his confidant, Brutus. This "Et tu, Brute?" moment, as famously immortalized by Shakespeare, is not just a historical incident but a manifestation of a phenomenon encountered among powerful leaders.When leaders become arrogant, lose their grip on reality, and start making impulsive decisions, this state of affairs can lead the subordinates or co-leaders who care for the welfare of the system, to contemplate the removal of the said leader through legal or other means. Historical and contemporary examples abound, ranging from Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania to Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, Steve Jobs during his first tenure at Apple.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes