What Kills Great Leadership?

post by Bill Treasurer:
Leadership is a powerful thing, one that comes with a
unique set of stresses, challenges, privileges, and responsibilities. Our
leadership journeys begin starry-eyed and well-intentioned, but the path to
leadership power is one that can lead even the best of us astray if we aren’t
careful. “What kind of leader will I be?” is a useful question to ask oneself,
but it ignores the central issue that snares most good leaders and squanders
their potential to be truly great. A better question to ask is: “How will I use
my leadership power?” If it turns out the power is being used to benefit
yourself rather than those you lead—sorry, that’s being a ruler, not a leader.

It’s your responsibility as a leader to lift up those who
follow you, not use them as stepping stools to further power or glory.
It’s  sadly common for leaders to become
intoxicated with power and become obsessed with acquiring more of it rather
than using it to benefit those they are privileged to lead. Leadership,
ideally, involves using and distributing power in a way that best serves the
interests of those being led. Great leaders have a sense of personal
responsibility keeping their ego in check and reminding them of their duty,
which is to act in a way that dignifies the role of leader—further causing
others to be inspired to seek out leadership positions that they can lead in a
dignified way, too.

Sounds pretty noble and gratifying, doesn’t it? So why do
so few leaders we see today live up to the potential of leadership?
Leadership “Killer”

In short, many prominent figures today have had their
leadership potential and ability struck down by hubris – what I dub the “leadership killer.” Hubris—defined as
“dangerous overconfidence,” is lurking in the shadows of all of us, waiting for
you to taste success so it can whisper in your ear about how you’re special and
deserve more, more, more.

Left unaddressed, the killer
will undermine your leadership impact, amplify the worst parts of your nature,
feed your ego, and ultimately cause you to mistreat others.

It’s crucial that you remain vigilant so you can notice
hubris when it tries to sneak up on you. In part, this requires you to develop
mental, physical, and spiritual fitness to keep it at bay, but it also involves
simply knowing what to watch for. The best way to be a great leader is to know
how to avoid being a bad one.

Here are some signs that hubris might be strengthening its
grip on you. Take note if you catch yourself demonstrating:

Backbone and resolve convey strength in a
leader. But when a leader’s opinions and preferences are calcified to the point
that they are shut off to new ideas and contemporary approaches, their
influence slowly rots. Entire organizations have fallen because of leadership
rigor mortis.

Vibrancy as a leader depends on continuously
striving to gain new skills and competencies, and embracing new approaches.
Over time, though, a leader may come to rely too much on past experience,
automating his response to new challenges that actually warrant novel
approaches. Before long complacency causes a leader to settle, expecting and
accepting less of himself…and those being led.

A leader needs to have depth of knowledge to
engender confidence among those he is leading; leadership competence yields
follower confidence. Conversely, people will quickly lose confidence if they
sense that their leader doesn’t know what he’s doing. Hubris deludes a leader
to think he knows more than he actually does, causing him to overestimate his
talents and underestimate his limitations.

Make no mistake: fear gets results. If it
didn’t, it wouldn’t be used by so many leaders as the primary means of
motivating people. But fear has diminishing returns, eventually undermining the
very returns a leader aims to get by stoking it. A leader’s job should be
building people’s courage and confidence, not tearing them down by injecting
them with fear and anxiety.

People need to know that the person behind the
leader’s role is real and vulnerable, just like them. Vulnerability and
authenticity help bridge the natural distance between followers and a leader,
but hubris causes a leader to falsely portray himself as invincible and
superior to all others.

A leader needs followers more than followers
need the leader, because a leader’s results depends on their work. It’s simple
really: without followers you can’t be a leader. A leader who fails to express
gratitude–generously and genuinely–will lose the hearts and minds of followers,
and undermine results in the process. Hubris withholds gratitude because
acknowledging the contribution of others takes attention and acclaim away from
the leader himself.
Leaders Have Flaws Too

Don’t worry if you’ve experienced one or two of the above
traits at times—no one is perfect, and no one becomes a monster just because
they were complacent that one time. Every leader is occasionally impatient,
irritable, arrogant, or harsh. We’re human. It’s important not to think of these
traits as absolutes; rather, consider them symptoms that might point to hubris
when they appear in large numbers, but could also be unrelated to ego—just like
a stuffy nose might not be the flu, but rather allergies or a simple cold. Any
you notice in yourself are worth digging into to see if the root cause is
hubris or something else. Only then can you address it and continue to grow
free of the leadership killer’s
shadow. Speedbumps are inevitable in anyone’s growth, and as long as you are
able to note your flaws and move past them with integrity, you’ll be able to
lead more virtuously, humbly, and selflessly.

is the Founder and Chief Encouragement Officer at Giant Leap
, a courage-building company that exists to help people
and organizations live more courageously, and the co-author of The Leadership Killer: Reclaiming Humility in an Age of Arrogance
along with Captain John
“Coach” Havlik, U.S. Navy SEAL (Retired). 
former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, Bill is considered the originator
of the new organizational development practice of courage-building. For over
two decades, he has designed and delivered leadership and succession planning
programs for experienced and emerging leaders for clients such as NASA,
Accenture, CNN, Saks Fifth Avenue, Hugo Boss, UBS Bank, Walsh Construction, the
Pittsburgh Pirates, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Science
Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.