Reclaiming the role of leader as a noble, principled and essential human responsibility
The Leadership Killer by Bill Treasurer and John Havlik is by far the best book on leadership I have read over the past several years. Anyone who is in a leadership position – at any level of an organization or in any aspect of their personal life – should take the key message in this book to heart.
And that message is very straightforward: hubris is the single most lethal killer of leadership. And while that may sound simple and easy to know or understand, it is hard to execute and even harder to keep in control. Which is why, as authors Treasurer and Havlik point out, some leaders do “breathtakingly stupid, self-serving, and unethical things.”
Leadership is a privilege. When seen in this light, leaders put their power to work on behalf of others, not for their own agendas. This book is a great step in fixing the leadership problems we see around the world today – in organizations, governments, religious institutions, academia, and even the non-profit world. As the authors note, this book is about “reclaiming the role of ‘leader’ as a noble, principled, and essential human responsibility.”
A foundational question the authors pose to leaders is one every leaders should ask themselves: “How will I use my leadership power?” Have you asked yourself this question lately? I suggest you do.
And while they do not do so, I would encourage you to follow that question with the equally important, “and why?”
How and why will you use your leadership power? On whose behalf? For what purpose? For what good?
Another foundational premise of The Leadership Killer is that being a good leader should never require being a bad person. This ties into my own views on Leadership Accountability, which to me means also holding colleagues and bosses to the highest standards of ethical conduct and decision making. I could not agree more with their claim that “great leadership starts with being a good person.”
Bad leadership has high costs, as I have pointed out in my book Leadership Lessons from the Volkswagen Saga. The Dieselgate scandal has cost Volkswagen over $35B to date, along with a tarnished reputation. It has also landed, so far, three of their executives in jail. Hubris was definitely a rampant problem at Volkswagen for decades. Today the company, and its shareholders, are paying the price.
Hubris kills mission, morale, and performance. It leads to poor decision making. And as Volkswagen’s leaders have learned, when you treat employees poorly you get undesirable outcomes.
Additionally, the authors warn us of the perils of focusing on leadership rank. As they say, “A high organizational rank, though, should not equate with human superiority and self-leadership requires the leaders to be conscious, self-aware, and awake to all the ways he is, in fact, not superior. He is merely assigned more power and responsibility to get results on our behalf.”
Here’s a definite warning from Treasurer and Havlik: “The leadership killer (hubris) wants you to believe that you’re apart from and above others, and that your specialness should be rewarded with certain freedoms that lessor, non-successful people, don’t get to enjoy.”
Doing this is a mistake. You have been forewarned. As you make your 2019 New Year’s Resolutions to be a better leader, ensure that you leave hubris behind in your past.
Also, as you prepare for 2019, please stop and spend time pondering those two foundational questions: “How will you use your leadership power? And Why?”
The Leadership Killer will help you become a more grounded and effective leader, both professionally and personally. And that is perhaps the highest praise I can give to it.