Leading Blog






02.27.19

The Leadership Killer

The Leadership Killer

THE LEADERSHIP KILLER is in all of us, all of the time, just waiting to strike. It doesn’t discriminate—neither gender or race. The ironic thing is, we give it permission to kill. It’s our choice.

In The Leadership Killer, Bill Treasurer and Captain John Havlik expose the leadership Killer. It’s hubris. Arrogance. It has killed more leaders than any other leadership flaw.

The fact that we have seen and experienced leaders seduced by their egos makes this book vital and timely. It is a short book but full of great insights and perspectives on hubris and its antidote, humility.

Hubris is the abuse of power that is inherent in leadership. And the more powerful we become—the more successful we become—the more easily we are to be seduced by it. We can believe that we deserve to act any way we want. We are above the rest.

Good leadership requires the right use of power. Treasurer and Havlik, ask, “How will I use my leadership power?
When a leader is full of hubris, the most basic aim of leadership—to improve the lives of those being led—gets twisted. Hubris turns a leader’s attention away from enriching the lives of others, to enriching himself.

Most leaders don’t start out that way. But in time, hubris creeps in to twist our thinking, kill our purpose, our ethics, and our reputation.

Each of us is capable of good and bad behavior. Ego is not inherently bad but it must be mastered. Unless you have mastery over the totality of your own nature, you will be prone to causing a lot of leadership damage.

How the Killer Creeps In

The demands and pressures of leadership can create a foothold for hubris. Hubris is always looking for an entry point. There are three basic areas where our ego can get the best of us.

The first is the pressures associated with being responsible to others. As a result, we often overlook taking care of ourselves—our health and personal relationships.
The Killer is on the lookout for the self-neglectful leader who is weighed down with the burden of responsibility. It knows that the more responsibilities the leader is carrying, the more the coiled spring of irresponsibility wants to burst forth with non-leaderlike expression. Such a leader, hubris knows, is vulnerable to making impulsive choices that give him temporary escape or relief from carrying responsibility’s heavy burdens. It knows that the more exhausted a leader is, the more susceptible he’ll be to character erosion, where principles can soften to the point of being compromised.

Then there’s the relentless pressure of having to produce results. Leaders are responsible for results, but when that become their primary focus, the ends can become more important than the means. And that almost guarantees that we will mistreat others.
The Killer wants the leader to be gluttonous for results, obsessed with getting more out of everyone and everything. If the Killer can get the leader to judge his or her worth only against their contribution to a financial end, it can make them pay less attention to all the important means to that end.

Finally, there are the pressures associated with having to perform in the role of leader. The typical expectation of a leader is invincibility. You know and can-do. At the same time, the needs of others put you in a position of having to be different things to different people. Leadership often requires that you be all things to all people.
The danger of over-attending to the role of leader is that you may start to lose sight of your true self. Some leaders get so wrapped up in the role that they don’t know how to step out of it. Hubris’s work will be much easier if you have no sense of self, no depth and dimension, and no sense of identity beyond your leadership role.

Not surprisingly, our success can be the biggest source of our downfall. It’s easy to think that when we are on a role, the rules don’t apply to us and we should—or rather deserve—special treatment. While success is good, success alone is not the point of leadership. As the author's point out, “Success is an outcome.” Our perspective should be bigger than that. Leadership is more about the “positive impact that your leadership can have on the people you’re leading, and by extension the organization you’re serving, by embodying a set of values and virtues as you meet challenges that push against them.”

What About Confidence?

Hubris easily masks itself as confidence and it can be hard to see the distinction. Trying to do it all yourself, refusing to ask for help, playing the victim, can all be manifestations of hubris.
True confidence is full of genuine humility. True confidence doesn’t need your affirmation. True confidence isn’t threatened when others experience success or rise in the ranks. It takes joy in contributing to it. True confidence knows its own value and is sober about its weaknesses. True confidence knows it can learn from everyone, and everyone deserves to be listened to and valued. True confidence doesn’t need to pretend it’s something it’s not, or put on airs of superiority or invincibility. True confidence doesn’t brag. True confidence is comfortable in its own skin, and wants to put you at ease so you can be comfortable in yours.

How Do We Guard Against the Killer?

In the overall scheme of things, we are not as big a deal as we think we or others might think we are. Acknowledging that the Killer is there inside each of us poised to kill our leadership is half the battle. That knowledge gives us a chance to control it. Ego is not something you eliminate; it is something you manage.

We guard against our ego primarily by allowing others to call us on it. Who gives you honest feedback? “They are your best hope for keeping grounded and levelheaded when your ego gets overly inflated and aim to float into the stratosphere.” Build those relationships. The stronger they are the better your feedback will be. Leaders thrive when they allow others to call them on their ego.

Ask questions. None of us has all of the answers. Get out and talk to people who are closest to the work. They will give you insights and appreciate the access they have to you.

Don’t pretend to be perfect. All of us have weaknesses. “People want to be led by leaders who are seasoned and scarred, because that’s how wisdom is gained.”

Show gratitude. Thank those that are contributing to your success. “Let people know why you’re grateful for them and the impacts they’ve made on you and your life. Gratitude and humility go together.

Finally, and not so obvious is to identify the things you find threatening. Name your fears. “Hubris feeds on fear. The more threatened your ego feels, the more it will act preemptively against what it finds threatening. At the core, arrogant leaders are fearful leaders. They externalize their own fear by intimidating you into being afraid of them. The more afraid of them you are, the less threatened they’ll feel.”

The final question becomes for each and every leader: Will you lead or rule?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:01 AM
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