How to Tell if You’re A Big-headed Leader

How to Tell if You’re A Big-headed Leader

hubris or power


Power is a powerful thing. Leadership, to be effective, involves wielding power to produce desired results.

Leaders are set apart from the people they are responsible for leading precisely because of the power inherent in leading. Leaders are expected to assert power to affect results, and their effectiveness is judged by those results. The more substantial those results are judged to be, the more powerful leaders become…and the more susceptible they become to the trappings of power.

You controlling power

It is sadly common for leaders to become intoxicated by power, more obsessed with gaining it than putting it to good use for the followers they are privileged to lead.

When leaders become drunk with power, hubris is sure to follow, and followers are sure to be misled.

Leadership, ideally, involves using and distributing power in a way that best serves the interests of those being led. Hubris, conversely, upends the central service-focus of leadership, applying power not for the good of others, but for the aggrandizement, gratification, and protection of the leader’s own interests.

As the purest form of selfishness, hubris uses power to serve itself. It takes a tremendous amount of self-governance and discipline for a leader to direct power toward noble aims, without becoming compromised by it.

Left unchecked, the acquisition of power becomes fused with a strong fear of losing it, causing the leader’s motivations and actions to be directed by fear, paranoia, and distrust. Even leaders who start out with noble intentions can become inebriated with power and corrupted by hubris.

The evil Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader’s master and mentor in the Star Wars movies, was right when he said, “All those who gain power are afraid to lose it. Even the Jedi.”

Hubris or growth?

In our new book, The Leadership Killer, retired Navy SEAL Captain John Havlik and I share one key way to identify whether or not you’re ego might be hijacking your leadership. It was shared with us by Patrick Decker, CEO of Xylem, a multibillion-dollar water solutions company.

As he was rising through the corporate ranks, Decker was fortunate to participate in a leadership development program where he received some mentoring advice from Larry Bossidy, the retired CEO of AlliedSignal (later Honeywell).

Decker had asked Bossidy what to pay attention to when moving people into new and more substantial roles.

Bossidy replied, “Watch for whether they grow or swell.”

What to watch for

Decker explains, “When moving a person into a leadership role, I pay attention to the behaviors that start to show up.

  • Does the new leader sponge up as much learning from others as possible?
  • Do they get inquisitive?
  • Do they ask for help and guidance?
  • Do they show humility and solicit the input of others?
  • Do they dedicate themselves to developing their direct reports, empowering them, and creating opportunities for development?
  • Or does their ego start to take over?
  • Do they get territorial, focus too narrowly on their own objectives, or become jealous of their peers’ successes?
  • Do they use intimidation as a shortcut to getting people to move?

Swelling is how you can tell when new leaders are letting power go to their heads, and the surest sign that a leader is headed for trouble.”



This post is excerpted from The Leadership Killer, by Little Leaps Press.

About the authors

Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting and author of five books on courage and leadership, including the international bestseller, Courage Goes to Work. Bill and Giant Leap have worked with thousands of leaders across the world for clients that include NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, UBS Bank, and eBay. @BTreasurer


CAPT John “Coach” Havlik, U.S. Navy SEAL (Retired), led special operations teams around the world during his 31-year naval career, to include the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, the SEAL’s most elite operational unit. CAPT Havlik was a nationally-ranked swimmer and is a member of the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame and Mountaineer Legends Society. @CoachHavlik



The cheeky middle

The cheeky middle

leadershipLife is like a dogsled team. If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes. ~Lewis Grizzard

Ah, the middle place.

This is the point in your leadership career where nothing is certain, and everything is up for grabs. As a leader, your development is well under way, but nowhere near complete; you are formed but not finished.

The challenge for midcareer leaders is to balance the ends-and-means tension created by the differing wants of your direct reports and bosses.

While most mid-career kicks stem from not paying enough attention to results (the “ends”) or the treatment of people (the “means”), there are additional kicks that you may experience midway through your leadership career:

The Passover

You’ve been working for the company for some time, doing a good job and expecting to be offered the next promotion. What happens next?

You get promoted, right?

Nope. Moving from the middle ranks to the upper ranks takes more than getting great results, treating your people well, or being tapped for the company’s elite leadership program: it takes opportunity.

And many times, you get passed over for an outsider.

So what can you do?

  • Bring the outsider in. Help the new person be successful.
  • Trust your leaders, and ask them what you can do to help create additional opportunities that you might be able to fulfill.
  • Grab the ring yourself. The more your results are unassailable and the deeper the loyalty you have among your people, the closer you’ll be to stepping onto the next rung.

The Smackdown

Failure, for high achievers such as those with a leadership profile, can be crushing. Emotions of fear, insecurity, and doubt can rent space in your mind for months afterward.

Where you once were bold and sure, now you’re tentative and hesitant.

At this point, an ass-kicking from a wise and more senior person can be helpful.

So what can you do?

  • Sulk, but do it by yourself.
  • Get perspective from a senior leader who has had a similar experience in the past.

Your failure is a grueling type of education. You wouldn’t want to go through it again, but the lessons you learn are invaluable, and will have a positive and enduring impact on your career.

The Ebbing

At some point at this middle stage of your leadership career, it’s common to be consumed with a gnawing sense that “there must be something more.”

The job of a leader, which looked so enviable when you were younger and at lower levels, feels less satisfying than you had imagined. Ebbing is a time of reflection and reassessment, when you’ll have more questions than answers. The questions you grapple with during the Ebbing stage are well worth answering, because they will influence the kind of leader you will ultimately be.

Finding the Cheeky Middle

If you find yourself deep in the ebb, pay close attention to the questions that surface for you.

  • Who do I aim to be as a leader?
  • What true difference do I hope to make through my leadership?
  • How do I wish to treat people while I’m leading?
  • What principles will I uphold?
  • What compromises am I willing to make?
  • What actions do I need to take to close the gap between the leader I aim to be and the leader I am today?
  • Can I become the leader I want to become by working where I work today?

The cheeky middle, in other words, is a supremely important place. Rather than endure it, embrace it as an essential part of your leadership development. Do that, and you’ll benefit from what you learn when you become a senior leader.

Image source (before quote):  Pixabay


⇒ About the author…Today’s guest contributor is Bill Treasurer. Bill has conducted over 500 corporate workshops designed to strengthen people’s leadership skills, improve team performance, accelerate innovation, and help executives behave more courageously. His latest book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, will be released on January 16, 2017. You can find out more about Bill at and






Lead Yourself First

Lead Yourself First

Today’s guest author is Bill Treasurer, Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting. His latest book is Leaders Open Doors. Bill is also the author of the bestselling book Courage Goes to Work along with the training kit Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace. Contact Bill at



Bill Treasurer - Lead Yourself FirstI grew up when I was 31.

It seems like all the years up until then had led me to that transition point. I now believe that all of us get a year to figure out if we’re going to spend the rest of our lives extending the selfishness that we’ve fortified through our youth.

My year was 31. Yes, I was an old young guy.

My extended adolescence started after college, when I joined a troupe of traveling gypsy high divers. No kidding. I really did that. Every day I and my motley tribe of elite athletes would climb to the tippy top of a 100-foot platform and hurl ourselves toward the water below, traveling at speeds in excess of 50 miles an hour…protected only by our Speedos. (more…)