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A Leader’s Greatest Challenge

Written by Mark W. Field

The face of Alexander Hamilton is on the front of the 10 dollar bill. By merit of his accomplishments, Hamilton should be one of the country’s greatest national heroes. Consider his contributions to America. He was a Revolutionary War hero; George Washington’s chief of staff by 22; America’s first secretary of the treasury; co-author of “The Federalist Papers”; creator of the U.S. Coast Guard; designer of the nation’s banking and finance system; architect of a U.S. tax collection system to create revenue for the government; and builder of the infrastructure for an industrial economy.

Yet, despite displaying the greatest blend of legal, political and financial knowledge of the Founding Fathers, Hamilton does not rank among the foremost heroes of American history. Why? Pride. Hamilton’s self-importance and inability to take an insult alienated those around him and sabotaged his career. His ego led directly to his death. Far too vain to patch up difference with fellow politician Aaron Burr, Hamilton was fatally shot by Burr in a duel at the age of 49.

Pride, the Leader’s Greatest Problem

There are two kinds of pride, good and bad. Good pride represents personal dignity and self-respect. Bad pride is the deadly leadership sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance. When examining the word “pride,” the letter that is in the middle is “i.” When leaders are full of pride on the inside, it makes them inflexible, stubborn, and creates strife with others.

Pride stops us from building a team. Prideful leaders are easily susceptible to contracting the “Superman Syndrome.” A cape-in-the-wind attitude devalues the fundamental benefits of teamwork. That attitude relies on personal prowess to solve problems and advance the organization. Blinded by their own self-centeredness, arrogant leaders are unable and unwilling to appreciate the strengths in others.

Pride renders leaders unteachable. Leaders who think they know everything do not engage in personal growth and development. Their ego convinces them that they have arrived at the pinnacle of knowledge, and they cease searching for life’s lessons in the people and circumstances around them.

Pride closes the leader’s mind to feedback. Pride deafens leaders to heed the advice or warnings of those around them. As Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” has said, “It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it, and appropriately act on it.” Without humility, leaders care about only one opinion—their own.

Pride prevents leaders from admitting their mistakes. The Duke of Wellington once haughtily drew himself up to his full height and thundered to one of his staff officers: “God knows I have many faults, but being wrong is not one of them!” Pride disallows failure. The egotistical leader blames mistakes on others, justifies them as inevitable, a cost of doing business, or refuses to even acknowledge mistakes.

Pride keeps leaders from making changes. Pride will cause leaders to pledge allegiance to the status quo rather than opening themselves to change, especially if the change alters a system they built around themselves. Since leaders have sweat labor and emotional equity in their own work, they will justify living with broken systems rather than changing them.

Pride hinders leaders from reaching their full potential. For leaders to reach full potential, they must be aware of areas in which they can improve. Unfortunately, pride blocks honest self-assessment, self-introspection and prevents leaders from finding the path to better performance.

Pride destroys a leader’s relationships. The opposite of loving others is not hating others but rather obsessing over yourself. When leaders become self-absorbed, they cut themselves off from the enjoyment of the relationships in their lives. “The Celebration Principle” declares that the true test of relationships is not how loyal we are when friends fail, but how thrilled we are when they succeed. If leaders cannot get excited about the accomplishments of their followers and friends, they best do some deep soul-searching.

Self-Correction for Pride

Proverbs 11:2 asserts, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” The author C.S. Lewis said that the way to obtain humility is to first realize that one is proud. Humility is the polar opposite of pride. It is the demonstration of a leader’s service to others and a demonstration of a leader’s true passion for the nobility of law enforcement.

After acknowledging that pride exists, becoming a servant to others, expressing gratitude for what a leader has, practicing transparency in relationships, seeking accountability from peers and their immediate leadership team, and learning to laugh at oneself will correct even the most stubborn pride problems.

In a recent Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman, architect of “emotional intelligence,” contends that organizations interested in leadership development need to begin by assessing the willingness of individuals to enter a change program. Eager, aspiring leaders should first develop a personal vision for change and then undergo a thorough diagnostic assessment to identify areas of social weakness and strength. Goleman believes that the only way for leaders to develop effectiveness is to undertake the hard work of changing their behavior.

As leaders continue through their leadership journey or as others step into new leadership roles, remember Alexander Hamilton. One can have dozens of accomplishments, but without humility and gratitude, a person will not be a truly successful leader. A personal willingness to confront pride issues now and engage in changing personal behaviors will improve relationships and give the leader who practices it proven credibility.

Mark W. Field is the chief of police with the Wheaton, IL Police. He can be reached at mfield@wheaton.il.us.

Published in Law and Order, Mar 2009

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