The Good and the Bad in Leadership

I often listen to NPR radio. On one such occasion, there was a series of soliloquies about the 7 Deadly Sins. The purpose of the program was for presenters to talk about one Deadly Sin and how it comes to bear in less obvious ways. This led me to thinking about these sins as they apply to leadership.

Let’s explore them one at a time but let’s also look at the flip side of each sin.

Greed. Greed can quickly get you derailed. The leader who becomes greedy may make short-term decisions rather than long term ones. They may choose to pay key people less so that their year-end bonus will be more. Greed could create a positive influence if it yields giving generously or creating goodwill. This type of greed could have a leader  greedy for acknowledgement or being unselfish in making decisions about other people rather than selfish, e.g. taking a risk on promoting someone who is not quite ready, because the leader sees the potential rather than the immediate gain.

Sloth. Sloth in a leader can lead to many downsides. I have had the unfortunate experience of working for a boss who was slothful. I am sure you have had similar experiences with a boss or co-worker. This individual does just enough to get by. They pawn off work to anyone who is ready, willing, and able. When you follow-up with this slothful leader on tasks you thought they were going to do, somehow it has bounced back to you. On the positive side, a leader who holds back and lets others lead the way, allowing them to demonstrate their talents, gifts, and skills, knows that letting others shine doesn’t take away from their own competence.  What might look like sloth, could very well be good leadership, so be careful that you are not quick to judge.

Pride. You’ve heard the old adage, “Pride cometh before a fall.” Unbridled pride in a leader can create a huge narcissistic impediment. This is the leader who takes the credit for anything and everything, whether he accomplished it or not. Also, this is the leader who is potentially to prideful to own up to mistakes or short comings.  On the winning side, pride can help a person stay afloat when getting through a difficult time. The leader who takes great pride in the work is motivated to do his/her best. The operative phrase is ‘in the work’. Great leaders are typically pretty humble people.  The leader who holds out critical self-judgement and believes in themselves, can often see the pay off.

Lust. Lusting after anything – another person at work, your boss’ job, the corner office, the next wrung on the corporate ladder, the competition’s market position – creates more negatives than positives. It focuses the leader away from his/her own priorities, planning, and deployment AND leads to the next sin, Envy. A positive form of lust could be passion. Passionate leaders are those who help make things happen. They are on a quest for the next steppingstone and tend to take others with them in advancement.

Envy. Green (with envy) is not an attractive color in a leader. Envy creates resentment. The envious leader is sitting in a meeting thinking about why someone else gets away with not accomplishing a task or goal when s/he is held accountable. The thought, “Gosh, I wish I had it as easy as __________.” is one that often plays across the envious leader’s mental screen. Envy can also create a leader who is jealous of others’ abilities, especially when they are better at something that is a weakness for the leader. In this situation, the leader may sabotage an action of those s/he is envious of. On the positive side of envy, it may help that someone pays attention to what the others have that they want. So a leader who observes someone who is getting ahead because they care about other people may begin to ask themselves deeper questions about how they could begin to care more.

Gluttony. Gluttony can be similar to greed. It means excessive indulgence. So a leader who is gluttonous may do everything in excess – take on huge projects for a team that is under resourced, underestimate the time that is needed to complete a project when assigning it, becoming a workaholic, and creating stress by his/her unrealistic expectations. Gluttony creates MORE and MORE and MORE. It is not much fun to work for a gluttonous leader. The only positive of this type of leader is that s/he will also use excessiveness in the recognition of team members and the celebration of team accomplishments. Expect wonderful parties!

Wrath. The angry leader is indignant, wanting to deliver punishment rather than information.  Little injustices can create an instant trigger of anger. I have personally witnessed the angry leader who throws things, jumps up with waving arms to make a point, who explodes and lets you know they are angry by facial expressions, body language, and pointed words. There is no question in your mind when they are hot under the collar. It is very difficult to know when to approach them about anything. They are NOT very approachable. You typically have to work around the angry leader. The positive characteristics of someone who is intense is that they are willing to fight the battles for the budget, the team, and the company. Bring it on! Of course, it is better to have them on your side. This type of leader would be a formidable enemy.

Summary. As a leader in any situation, explore your motivations, especially when you react strongly to what is happening. Is your reaction driven by one of these sins? If so, rethink your viewpoint. Drop those preconceived ideas about people and about yourself. Often the line between the positive and negative side of these sins is thin.  You may spin it one way, but take cues from those around you in evaluating where on the spectrum you may stand.  Stand back, humble yourself, and start over. Apologize, if appropriate. Be as honest with yourself as possible.  Exercise self-control. Use positive words and deeds in your role. It is easier to abstain from the sins than clean up after them.  It is not an easy task to break the bad habits caused by any of the seven deadly sins, but self-reflection and honesty will go a long way to righting the past wrongs of a leader.

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