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 BillTreasurer.com
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 CoachHavlik.com