The Devastating Cost of Prideful Leaders

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A well-known proverb warns, “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” For some reason, leaders who should know better seem to believe this principle doesn’t apply to them; or, they are so self-unaware they do not even recognize their prideful behavior and how it is sabotaging their future. I am not referring to the pride that comes from doing good work and taking satisfaction in your accomplishments, but rather to the pride defined in the dictionary as “having or showing an excessively high opinion of oneself or of one’s importance.” Also referred to as being “egomaniacal” or “full of oneself,” most will recognize the pride to which I’m referring here.

Following are signs of prideful behavior that break trust with followers, create a toxic culture, and curtail a leader’s personal growth and potential for advancement. Since our biggest vulnerabilities are those we are unaware of, use these points as a checklist of sorts to audit your own leadership style. While no one is perfect—and you may fall into these traps occasionally—substantial danger arises when the behaviors are no longer exceptions, and have become dominant in your leadership style.

     1. A failure to admit mistakes. This is lying by omission and destroys trust.

     2. Being prone to blame conditions or other people for your lack of success. This demonstrates that you are an un-promotable “victim;” a sniveling clod of ailments no one wants to work with or entrust their business to.

     3. Withholding, or even hogging, the credit for team success. This is just a sneakier form of theft.

     4. A failure to delegate. This causes you to become overwhelmed, and stunts the growth of your people.

     5. Failing to empower others, and/or personally makes all the decisions.   This makes followers more dependent on you, when you should be making them less so in order to accelerate their growth.

     6. Believing certain standards or values others must live do not apply to him or her. As a leader you should expect to be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard than others.

     7. Being selfish, a non-team player, or primarily in it for yourself. Over time this behavior is both a cultural poison, and personal suicide.

     8. A failure to develop others, because you see little value in others. If you don’t see value in people, you will not add value to people, and you will lose value as a leader. There is no middle ground—you either add value to others or subtract it by default.

     9. Prone to becoming overwhelmed because you will not ask for help, or admit when you are over your head. It is embarrassing for a prideful person to ask for help, but what’s really humiliating is failing completely because you didn’t ask.

    10. Little or no interest in committing to personal development because you feel you are good enough as you are. If you don’t grow, you go; it will just be a matter of time.  

    11. A belief that certain tasks are beneath you. Get over yourself; everyone else probably has already.

    12. A preoccupation with titles, position, or who gets what office or perks. Leadership is performance, not position. Just consistently get results the right way and the rest tends to take care of itself.

    13. A tendency to treat front line team members poorly or with indifference. Wake up; you need them more than they need you.

    14. Being known for talking more than you listen. Discipline yourself to shut up and listen. Leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue. No good idea will ever enter your head through your own open mouth.

    15. Being unreceptive to ideas other than your own; rarely seeking out other ideas or opinions. Get a grip; you’re not that good. Any idea is a good idea until you find the best idea, and none of you will ever be as smart as all of you.

    16. Defensive or resentful of feedback, and more likely to argue with it than entertain its value.  This eventually disqualifies you for leadership. If people cannot talk to you, they can’t grow you.

    17. Very likely to develop blind spots because people are afraid to speak up and share the reality about what is going on in the organization. Set your ego and potentially hurt feelings aside and create a culture of candor where the truth isn’t just heard, but insisted upon—especially when it hurts.

    18. Focusing more on being served, than on adding value to others and serving them. You are there for your people. Once you add value to them it will come back to you multiplied, but you go first because you are the leader.

This list could continue for a while, but the points offered paint a fairly clear portrait of what a prideful leader looks like. In one of my books, How to Run Your Business by THE BOOK, I even devoted an entire chapter to create more awareness of this topic: “The Number One Cause of Management Failure.”

Incidentally, if you spent more time thinking of others as you read through the list than you did in evaluating your own behavioral tendencies, you’ve somehow managed to miss the point that this piece is primarily about you looking in the mirror, not about wagging a hypocritical finger at others. Tolstoy addressed this tendency when he wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world. No one thinks of changing himself.”

The harm to culture, momentum, morale, trust, and personal credibility for demonstrating some, or all, of these traits is staggering. While any leader may demonstrate an unhealthy pride from time to time—after all, we are all human—the leaders who destroy cultures and people are those in whom these behaviors are dominant, rather than the exception.  The bottom line is this: you cannot expect to build a fit culture, or a fit team, if you are an unfit leader. Get yourself right, and then you can get the culture right, the team right, and the results right.

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Dave Anderson
Dave Anderson is President of LearnToLead, an international training and consulting organization based in the Los Angeles area. After a successful career running a large automotive group, Dave and his wife Rhonda started LearnToLead in 1999. He has spoken in seventeen countries, and gives presentations on average of 120 times per year. Dave is the author of fourteen books; Selling Above the Crowd, No-Nonsense Leadership, Up Your Business, the TKO Series, How to Deal with Difficult Customers, If You Don't Make Waves You'll Drown, How to Run Your Business by The Book, How to Lead by The Book, It's Not Rocket Science, and his latest, Unstoppable: Transforming Your Mindset to Create Change, Accelerate Results, and Be the Best at What You Do. He writes columns for multiple national magazines, and trains organizations in the corporate realm, athletics, non-profit and government. Dave is the host of the energetic and high-impact podcast, The Game Changer Life, that focuses on becoming more focused, more energetic, more effective and living The Game Changer Life. He is the co-founder of Matthew 25:35 Foundation, who brings food, clothing, housing, ministry and education to under-resourced people worldwide. Dave’s common sense, no-nonsense approach resonates well with audiences worldwide, who’ve become worn out by the burden of political correctness.