Number One Reason Why Great Leaders Go Bad

As predictable as hot weather in July, and snow in Alaska, is the fall of great leaders.

It seems every other week we’re reading about the demise of some leader, either in politics, business, or the church world who have done something stupid to sabotage their influence.

Think about this.  If great leaders are blind to this, I guarantee you that the rest of us are in danger. It’s the number one reason why good, great leaders always fail.  The problem is, the most influential among us are those that we read about and hear about.

What is this disease, this virus, this toxic quality once harbored in the heart that signals the end of a leader’s reign? It’s a little thing called “hubris.”

In his latest book, “How the Mighty Fall,” Jim Collins lists the traits that accompany the demise of great companies.  Hubris made that list.

What is hubris?  We think it’s pride.  We think it’s arrogance.  And it is those things.  But it’s something much deeper, far more subtle, and stealth.  Let me illustrate.

I received an email from a good friend (I’d say a close friend. I’d say not just a close friend, but someone I admire; not just a close, good friend that I admire, but someone who has gone out of his way to help me at his own expense) that had both encouragement and some correction.

When I read the email, both the encouragement and the correction, I became livid immediately.  It was as though a switch was thrown on in my psyche.  It wasn’t a volitional, conscious response.  It was a primal, unconscious anger that made me tremble.  I wanted to lash out.

Because I have a trusted confidant in my wife, I was able to sit down calmly and talk to her about this email.  Not the content of it, truthfully the content of it was true.  Maybe that’s why it made me angry.  It was not even the person who sent it.  But it was my response.  It scared me.

I found myself being angry because someone dared correct me. And that is hubris. Pride, ego, self-centered-ness that takes control and causes you to overreact and do things that can destroy your leadership influence forever at worst, and set it back for years at best.

What’s the bottom line of all this?  That the number one task of a leader is to lead himself or herself.  You must – I repeat – must lead yourself. You must take charge of your life as you would take charge of a vision, or a mission, or corporation.   You must understand that you are the most dangerous person in the leadership equation.  If you can remain humble, teachable, mold-able, and adaptable, there’s almost no limit to what you can achieve.  If you don’t, you will sabotage yourself and become a cautionary tale.

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