Pop Goes the Leader: The Dangers of Letting Success Go to Your Head

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BY: BILL TREASURER

Hubris—dangerous overconfidence—is the single most lethal leadership Killer. And anyone can be susceptible to the Killer of hubris—it’s not just politicians and multi-billionaires, but anyone who has achieved anything of note needs to be wary of the Killer taking hold and turning you into an arrogant and ineffective leader. Starting a successful small business is hard, and watching it grow is sure to instill anyone with pride—but making sure that pride doesn’t evolve into something that will erode your ability to lead your growing company is important.

Obsessed with Success

Success makes you an easy target for the Killer. It wants it as badly as you do. Why? Because it’s precisely when you’re basking in the light of your achievements that your flanks and backside will be left unprotected. Success, by providing you with incontrovertible proof of your value, can cause you to let your guard down. It can twist your sensibilities to the point that you feel deserving of special exemptions – call it Leadership Latitude.

The Killer wants you to believe that you’re apart from and above others, and that your specialness should be rewarded with certain freedoms that lesser, non-successful people, don’t get to enjoy. The more you love your success, the more you make chasing it the focal point of your leadership, the easier it will be for the Killer to get working inside you. Your obsession with success portends the failure that the Killer is working hard to bring you.

The key isn’t to devalue success. The key is to not get so enamored with it that you start to compromise your integrity in pursuit of it.

Do the Next Right Thing

Success feels good, especially when it’s deserved. But success in and of itself isn’t the point of leadership. Success is an outcome. The point of leadership isn’t some pot of gold you hope to get by being a leader. Rather, it’s 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. Leadership, essentially, is about doing the next right thing when the temptations for doing wrong are high. Enduring leadership satisfaction comes not because of the extra freedoms you enjoy because of your accumulated successes. It comes from the lives that have been positively impacted through your integrity.

Are You a Target for The Killer?

If you’re ever not sure how resistant you are to the lure of hubris, looking inward is always a good place to start when you want an answer. (You could also get some valuable feedback from an unbiased friend or coworker as well, but there’s no route to controlling one’s ego that doesn’t go through self-awareness!)

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine if hubris will have a good shot at sticking around when it comes for you, or if you’ll fend it off effectively:

  • Can you look in the mirror and be proud of the leader you see looking back at you?
  • Think of a time when life let you know that you had gotten too cocky. What caused you to become so full of yourself? What outcome did the cockiness lead to?
  • What did you learn about yourself in the process? How do you honor those lessons in the way you lead today?
  • What leadership values do you believe yourself to embody most of the time? What specific actions could you take to embody them more fully, more often?
  • What do you view as the whole point of your leadership?
  • Describe one leadership “do over” you wish you could have. What do you regret about the way you contributed to the episode? What did you learn about yourself in the process? What is one action you could take to honor the lessons you learned from your “do over moment”?

Bill Treasurer, Founder and Chief Encouragement Officer, Giant Leap Consulting. [email protected], (800) 867-7239, https://giantleapconsulting.com/killer/

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