The Deadliest Leadership Sin: Pride
The seven deadly sins were originally articulated in Christianity, but represent universal hazards. One is particularly dangerous for leaders: pride. In the right amount, it breathes wind into our sails. In excess, it feeds our egos and erodes trust and respect.
Excess pride is so dangerous because it produces blindness. It makes us lose sight of our limitations, which makes for poor decisions and causes more grief than any other shortcoming:
- We stop listening to the people around us
- We assume we’re right when we’re not
- We close ourselves off to contrary opinions and alternate points of view
- We limit the curiosity essential to good decision-making
- We make assumptions
- We ignore bad news
Pride fools us into thinking we have all the answers, something no one ever has. It creates a personal echo chamber where we’re always right. The best leaders don’t need to be right: they have the courage to be wrong. They understand they’re only as good as the people who support them. When leaders rely on those people, they achieve greatness. When they ignore them, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
Humility and a sense of humour balance ego, and together are a great acid test for strong leadership. These qualities humanize leaders and allow them to embrace their limitations, and ultimately surpass them.
Siri, can you hear me?
Steve Jobs is often identified as an exemplary leader. Although famous for his temper tantrums, he did many things right, one of which was to listen to his team. Jobs did not lack for ego, but recognized the strength of the people he hired, summed up by a quotation of his:
It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.
Jobs understood when to insist on and fight for his vision, and when to park his ego at the door. This is in stark contrast to someone who aspired to be the new Steve Jobs, but ended up indicted by a Grand Jury.
Elizabeth, can you hear me?
“Henry, you’re not a team player,” she said in an icy tone. “I think you should leave right now.” There was no mistaking what had just happened. Elizabeth wasn’t merely asking him to get out of her office. She was telling him to leave the company — immediately. Mosley had just been fired.