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8 Deadly Sins of Leadership

8 Deadly Sins of Leadership

You probably recall that there were 7 deadly sins. And you would be right, traditionally. Our modern day 7 were abbreviated from the Greek 8. If you know the 8 deadly sins of leadership and how to avoid them you can improve your leadership in one of the easiest ways possible: stop doing things that sabotage your leadership.

1. Gluttony

When a leader has engaged in gluttony for protracted periods, what happens? They become obese, and in many case morbidly obese. You may think that it is not politically correct to judge others by their dietary habits, but here is the harsh reality: people do! Until that stops (don’t hold your breath) all leaders ought to consider what signal it sends to staff, if they are hugely overweight.

In private, when the PC police will not chastise them for their genuinely held views, many people (read staff) will assume that someone who is overweight will be greedy, over-indulge, and be unable to control their eating.

Of course, for many leaders that is just not true: they have become obese because they are so dedicated to their jobs that they don’t get time for exercise. That means, to keep mental energy levels high, they have to eat as and when required. Each day they take in enough to keep cognitive functioning at peak levels, but just a little too much each day for weight maintenance. Only 100kcals per day too much (just one slice of bread) is 3000kcals per month. Each 3000kcal energy surplus puts on 0.5kg or 1lb in fat. In a few years obesity is inevitable. Most overweight people did not get fat through gluttony, but by a tiny input excess on a daily basis, over many years.

To the rest of the world, to people who don’t know how easy it is to get very heavy, the signal sent is clear: a gluttonous body is the product of a gluttonous mind.

Inferences are made about character. Lack of self-control, over-indulgence… Leadership effectiveness is impaired.

Even though it is utterly irrational to be so dismissive of overweight people, it is a human reality, and to keep your leadership credibility, it is wise to keep control of your waistline.

2. Lust

How often have you seen this? A leader has recruited a person whose talent is… diplomacy called for… in areas not immediately obvious to others, and that person is amazingly attractive; film star looks. Before long, the rumours start. You’ve heard them. And since this is a family show, they will not be repeated here. They involve unions of a kind not appropriately found in professional working environments.

What effect does that have on a leader’s credibility?

Perhaps more importantly, what signal does that send to staff throughout the organisation?

Here is just one: “It is OK, to recruit for reasons… let’s call them aesthetic reasons… other that competence.”

Quickly the organisation is filled with attractive assistants and not much in the way of added value.

Here is the dilemma for any effective leader. We know customers like doing business with, and may even be lust driven to do more business with… “eye candy.”

As an aside that has led to widespread allegations that certain roles are filled on the basis of facial prejudice. For example, how may aesthetically challenged TV presenters are there?

What then is a leader to do? Ignore the fact that customers are motivated to do business with eye candy, in the hope that the candy develops in to a tasty experience? Or, should a leader recruit purely on ability, even when a pretty face can get better results with much less ability?

Recruiting eye-candy over competence sends a powerful signal. Be aware that others can and will copy that signal, IF the leader has sent it. Before long a company can be the place where bosses are fawned on by beautiful people. You know what that does for productivity and company longevity.

3. Greed

The shareholder backlash against directors voting themselves huge, and unearned, and undeserved pay rises and bonuses,tells us how people react to greed.

“Hold on,” you might say, “surely the remuneration committee decides on pay rises and bonuses for directors.”

Hmmm… in theory they are impartial. In practice… Who appoints the members of the remuneration committee? Who sits on the remuneration committee? Could it be the people are appointed to the remuneration committee by those whose payment they oversee? Could there be remuneration committee swaps, both direct and indirect? (“You sit on my remuneration committee and I’ll sit on yours.”) Could those on the remuneration committee have an predetermined interest in ensuring that the directors are “handsomely rewarded for valiant efforts”?

The specific mechanisms for greed to be fed, are not as damaging as the acts of greed themselves. To illustrate.

How credible is a leader who keeps a 0% or 0.5% cap on staff pay rises while taking home a 180% increase? “Don’t do what I do, do what I say!”

Leadership greed takes many damaging forms in company life. Staff have to walk 500m from the furthest reaches of the car park while directors park outside the front door. Every such apparently petty act of greed, whether of money, status, or convenience sends a loud and well-received signal to staff: your efforts are not valuable, and are treated as such. When people hear that signal, they can choose whether to deliver discretionary effort. That’s the extra effort that we can all put in, if we choose, that can add massive value, but if we choose not to, nobody but ourselves will notice. Greed puts leaders on a discretionary effort diet. Some times the diet is so severe that the company starves to death.

4. Pride.

When a leader focuses on him or herself, when their ego is on full display, when s/he says “I did this, and I achieved that,” what do staff hear? “You don’t matter; I am the big cheese. Me, me me!” 

When staff hear and see leadership egos on display, they understand that their efforts will go un-credited, they realise: “I am part of a paid audience, and now is the time to clap.”

How do you respond when you know someone won’t appreciate you however much you deliver, and at the same time expects you to fawn over their achievements?

Do you offer to do more work; put in more effort? Or do you offer less?

Here we are again: a situation where staff can say nothing, can do nothing, except withhold their discretionary effort, their ideas, their knowledge.

5. Despair and depression

When leaders fall in to a fit of despondency, to use outdated language, the response of staff is timeless: “If our leaders can see no future, what’s the point in trying?”

When staff give up hope, what happens? Nothing. All effort stops, save for, perhaps a token gesture.

Given the ferocity of the consequences, leaders do not have the luxury of being pessimistic, or the indulgence of despair. Their mood creates the future of the organisation, for bad, and for good. We are all familiar with the wisdom contained in: “Without hope people perish.” Leaders who deprive staff of hope commit a sin that has a huge effect on the company, their staff, their families and many others.

6. Wrath

Have you seen this? A business leader directs the resources of his/her organisation at someone who has angered him/her? Of course you have. And how does it always end? The entire company suffers, and staff feel like they are walking on eggshells. How productive are staff when they are constantly inhibited, perpetually afraid that they? Not very.

7. Vainglory

Have you heard any of this collection from one of your company leaders?

“We are the best in our field. We leave the competitors in the dust. Our approach is by far the most effective. We provide the best quality in the industry.”

Yes? Perhaps it is best to ask: Have ever been in a company and not heard such claims from the leadership?

Just how much of it do you believe?

Not a lot, if any. Why? Because you know that what you are hearing are baseless, or as the ancients had it, vainglorious comments. They are meant to be self aggrandizing, and sometimes collectively self-aggrandizing. Vainglory is baseless boasting and makes the best leaders look foolish and self-important. Don’t do it.

“Ehm… aren’t you contradicting yourself?” You might well ask! “Aren’t you saying that a leader MUST provide hope? Cannot be pessimistic? Surely getting people to aspire to be the best is providing hope!”

Yes, leaders MUST provide hope. Yes, leaders MUST create strong aspirations. But when they cross the line into making claims that are not true, or cannot be proven to be true, credibility plummets! Yes, set aspirational visions, but do not claim that those visions have been realised when they have not.

What happens if staff think the vision/aspiration has been achieved? Their drive diminishes; their productivity reduces; results start to slip away, all because a leader gave staff a false idea of their current standing in the market place.

8. Laziness

When a leader is lazy, when a leader watches on while others work, when a leader is never seen to do any work, what effect does that have on staff?

Are staff inspired to “go the extra mile” when their leader won’t go a single inch?

Of course not. The revenge of withheld discretionary effort is applied. That might mean, simply not telling the leader about a problem the member of staff can see coming, expensively down the line, not sharing an idea that could make savings in time and effort, not helping a colleague solve an otherwise very expensive problem.

There are so many ways for a member of staff to punish the 8 deadly sins of leadership.

Each of the 8 deadly sins of leadership carries a heavy price. That price is always a reduction in performance, a diminution of results, and over a longer time frame, the demise of both the leader and the company.

I hope it is a price you can see is not worth paying. Being perfect in not an option, but avoiding the 8 deadly sins of leadership is, and now that you know how they are played out, YOU CAN AVOID THEM.

If you are, or aspire to be a leader and wish to improve your performance, and you like the PsyPerform approach: you only pay for results, then contact PsyPerform. You can have a free leadership development discussion via SKYPE with Prof Nigel MacLennan. Contact PsyPerform here.

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