Like Odysseus sailing past the sirens we are constantly lured toward rocks and ruin by charming melodies that seem as harmless as they are desirable. They start small and innocent, but if not resisted, can destroy a leader.
Odds are you won’t face all of these temptations at once. Depending on your personality and preferences, you may easily avoid some, while others will continually harass you.
There are at least five temptations every leader faces:
1. Respect from others. Being respected isn’t a bad thing, but a desire to be respected that ferments into a need to be respected can have devastating results. That need for others to see you and regard you in a certain way, may cause you to attempt to become something or someone you aren’t. Combat this temptation with authenticity. Be yourself—nothing more, certainly nothing less.
2. Praise from others. Again, nothing wrong with being recognized for your accomplishments. It’s only when the desire for recognition starts driving your actions that trouble seeps in. It may start with not correcting an exaggerated report of your contribution, but it soon morphs into hoarding and taking credit from others. Fight this temptation with generosity—give away as much credit as you can whenever you get the chance.
3. Success at any cost. The ability to deliver results is a common expectation among leaders. However, it’s not the only measure of excellence. How you achieve those results is important. When the accomplishment of our mission supersedes the principles and values we stand for, then we lose our identity and purpose. Resist this temptation by clinging to honesty. When you fail, don’t just move the goal posts; assess reality and adjust as necessary.
4. Power over others. Every leader has—and uses—power over others. And that’s fine. Alarms should go off only when you start to see yourself actively trying to lord power over others just for the sake of having it. At that point your motives have become selfish and you’ve lost sight of why leaders exist. Battle against this temptation by cultivating a service attitude.
5. Target fixation. Focus is your best friend when it comes to successful execution. However when your focus is so narrow that you lose sight of the big picture, things starts to fall apart. Whether you’re neglecting one market for another, ignoring individual needs to accomplish a mission, or letting your family down while you concentrate on your career, it’s never sustainable. Avoid this temptation by maintaining perspective on your life and work. Schedule times to step back and take a holistic view.
Awareness of temptation is half the battle. If you sense one of these temptations is sucking you in, fight back—cling to who you are, be generous, tell the truth, seek to serve, and keep an eye on the big picture. These disciplines will help you navigate the potential pitfalls that every leader will face.
What other temptations are common to all leaders? What’s the best way to fight them?