Pride is a powerful narcotic, but it doesn’t do much for the auto-immune system. – Stuart Stevens
Pride is a Silent Leadership Assassin
People follow someone because either: a) they have extrinsic “power of position” (e.g. they are the boss or parent) or b) they have intrinsic “power of resources” (e.g. they possess wisdom, money, or access to others). Great leaders don’t abuse this power. They know that if it weren’t for followers, they wouldn’t be a leader. They don’t focus on themselves, but on what they can do to enable their employees, children, or constituents. It is a subtle difference in mindset, but makes a huge difference in how they operate.
In defense of leaders who have trouble remembering why they are leaders, leadership can make you proud. It has a tendency to make you self-centered. It is easy to feel a sense of personal accomplishment when your team’s efforts result in something positive. It is easy to confuse the promotion of your people, products, and services with the promotion of yourself. The line between confidence and pride is a thin one.
Yet great leaders resist the temptation to take credit for their team’s efforts. They base their confidence on their own God-given talents, self-discipline, integrity, and competence. They don’t need to take confidence away from others to prove themselves. They are secure. Their effort speaks for itself. In fact, great leaders are humble. They have no need for self-aggrandizement. They focus on their employees, children, and constituents—not themselves.
Be careful with pride. It can bury itself in your subconscious and sabotage you. It will permeate your thoughts, words, and actions. Without intending, you will come across as arrogant, conceited, and selfish. These are not qualities that endear people to you.
Pride is a powerful foe. Even the best leaders can easily fall victim to this silent assassin if they are not vigilant.
How often have we seen leaders fall from places of significance and influence to places of disgrace? It seems like a regular occurrence that we hear about a leader who comes crashing back to reality after pride has taken over.
Pride can cause you pain and damage in a variety of ways. It can be as scant as a simple bruising of the ego in one incidence. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, it can cost you a large portion of your leadership effectiveness and credibility.
Remember, it is very apparent to others, and less apparent to us, when we get our heads and hearts filled with the prideful venom of self-saturation and adulation. It eats our credibility from the inside out.
Pride can be very stealthy and can quickly disable or eliminate a leader with little warning or fanfare.
Through every season of my life and throughout my development journey as a leader, that pride has been a consistent, persistent, and worthy adversary.
One of the most powerful and meaningful is the unconditional love and support from my wife, Ife. She is my greatest cheerleader and my strongest defence against this leadership assassin. She keeps me grounded and always brings me back to reality and focused on what is truly important in life and as a leader.
With every individual or team success, the unwary leader can increase their vulnerability to the destructive forces of pride. The same skills, competencies and values that make you successful as a leader can be the very things that can “puff you up” and replace humility in your heart with a lethal dose of venomous pride.
“As a leader, you must be proactive and put defences in place to protect your heart and status as a leader from the ‘Silent Leadership Assassin’.”
One strong defence against pride is a network of other leaders who can and will be honest with you when they see pride creeping up on you. Sometimes others can easily see the enemy approaching and can help you thwart an attack and keep your leadership strong and on track.
I challenge you to develop, cultivate and utilize your own defensive team of leaders to keep you accountable and safe.
Pride Trigger 1: Ownership
When we take ownership and credit for the talents we possess or the outstanding performance of the organization, it will result in getting caught in the trap of success and measurement of results. The problem with measurements of success is that they are moving targets. We try to justify our ambition by calling it “love for the job,” but inside of us pride could be taking root without notice.
Did you catch that? My treasure. My fruit. My business, My job. We forget we are only stewards of the gifts and the call, not the owners. The root of pride shows its ugly face when we dare claim to be the authors of such greatness. Each time we strive for more success, more results, seeing people as projects rather than those we were called to serve, pride starts to grow undetected.
It is wonderful experiencing quick success on the job. It’s usually a great reward for hard work and seems to confirm the call of God on our lives. But it also is a very scary place to be. The society we live idolizes leaders with good performance and creates a celebrity status that isn’t healthy for the life of a leaders called to serve, despite the obvious performance. What does this say to those who toil with a pure heart but see nothing? Can you see what granting celebrity status and idolatrous celebration of good performance does to the heart of a leader, especially a young leader without seasoned wisdom? This proud sense of ownership can only focus leaders of performance rather than service.
Pride Trigger 2: Keeping Score
Bitterness is dangerous to the life of a leader. Once it has taken hold, no matter how gifted, that leader is at risk of losing all she has built. Not only are we unable to recognize God’s provisions, but we take on an independent heart that says, “I’ll do it on my own.” We lose our dependence on God, because in our minds, he has failed us. Once this shift in trust has happened, gratefulness has left the building.
Pride Trigger 3: Good Intentions
We tend to judge others by their actions rather than intentions, while we judge our own actions by our intentions. This is particularly dangerous to the life of a leader if he can’t distinguish between what she intended to do and what she actually ended up doing.
Leaders need to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking just because we’ve said it (or read it), we’re living it. What is taught out of our mouths isn’t necessarily done through our actions. We have to be just as intentional, if not more, about how we apply what we are teaching so we don’t sink into this deception. This disconnect only leads to justification of actions that “don’t apply” to us. We can easily trick ourselves into thinking whatever we’d like to give grounds for why we are the exception. It’s important to be brave, look inside, and allow God to take a true inventory of what’s going on and make adjustments. The life of our leadership and those we lead depend on it.
Pride Trigger 4: Myopia
We are generally consumed with thinking about success in the moment, not about leaving something valuable to the upcoming generation. We usually underestimated the value of the little things: the little choices that built up over time, creating a bigger message that wasn’t focused on leaving a legacy but covered with excuses about our negligence in the little things.
Little things matter. The daily choices we make as leaders build to tell a story about us that speaks louder than the successful moments we want to believe are louder.
As leaders, we have been given responsibility toward those we lead and those leaders who are coming up behind us. We need to care more about what we are leaving behind than a preoccupation with the moving target of success. We need to cultivate honest hearts that can see between the lines of intention and action. We need to guard our hearts against bitterness and see the gifting of God as something we steward, not own. If we tend our hearts well, we will see lasting fruit from our labour.
Ways Leaders Can Avoid the Pitfall of Pride
Consider these five principles to maintain your humility:
- Seek feedback. Ask those that know you well for their candid and constructive feedback. Ask if your style, tone, or content has any arrogance to it. Be accessible and maintain an open-door policy where people can share their thoughts with you without fear of reprisal.
- Test your motives. Consider why you do what you do. Do you lead for your personal enjoyment or to help others? When in meetings, are you willing to let others do most of the talking? Do you give your children a chance to explain themselves or are you quick to apply a heavy hand of discipline because you can. Bring into your consciousness your true motives.
- Know your responsibility. Realize your responsibility as a leader is to lead people, not to exercise your power over them. Your value-add is often invisible. It is what your constituents do that validates your leadership, not what you do yourself. Focus on helping and enabling others. It will come back to you like the repayment of a loan, with interest.
- Ground your confidence in yourself. Don’t depend on the perceptions of others for your self-confidence. If you do, you will be on a constant roller coaster ride. Your mood and self-esteem will constantly go up and down by no cause of your own. You may not be perfect, but neither is anyone else. Strive to improve yourself, but be confident in yourself as you are. Don’t feel like you need to brag on yourself in order to receive validation from others.
- Know how to promote your value-add. There are occasions when people need to understand your value-add. Customers, investors, and supporters need to know that their resources are being put to good use. You can toot your own horn without being conceited. Focus on your constituents and the benefits to them. It is about them, the results, the team, and the value-add itself. It is not about what you did. Be careful about using the “I” word, especially when it should be the “we” word.
Follow these five principles to keep your pride in check and your leadership in top shape.
Questions: Is your leadership marked by humility? What are some of the ways you see pride seeping into your interaction with others?
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