Five Ways Leaders Can Avoid the Pitfall of Pride

This is a guest post by Mike Hawkins. He is the author of Activating Your Ambition: A Guide to Coaching the Best Out of Yourself and Others and the president of Alpine Link Corporation, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development and sales performance improvement. If you would like to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Being a leader means you have followers. Having followers means you have power. Having power means you have a responsibility to be responsible. Corporate leaders, parents, preachers, teachers, community leaders, and politicians have a higher standard to live up to because of their ability to influence. And the larger your circle of influence, the larger your responsibility.

Businessman Slipping and Falling - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #3091176

Photo courtesy of ©

People follow someone because either: a) they have extrinsic “power of position” (e.g. they are the boss or parent) or b) they have intrinsic “power of resources” (e.g. they possess wisdom, money, or access to others). Great leaders don’t abuse this power. They know that if it weren’t for followers, they wouldn’t be a leader. They don’t focus on themselves, but on what they can do to enable their employees, children, or constituents. It is a subtle difference in mindset, but makes a huge difference in how they operate.

In defense of leaders who have trouble remembering why they are leaders, leadership can make you proud. It has a tendency to make you self-centered. It is easy to feel a sense of personal accomplishment when your team’s efforts result in something positive. It is easy to confuse the promotion of your people, products, and services with the promotion of yourself. The line between confidence and pride is a thin one.

Yet great leaders resist the temptation to take credit for their team’s efforts. They base their confidence on their own God-given talents, self-discipline, integrity, and competence. They don’t need to take confidence away from others to prove themselves. They are secure. Their effort speaks for itself. In fact, great leaders are humble. They have no need for self-aggrandizement. They focus on their employees, children, and constituents—not themselves.

Be careful with pride. It can bury itself in your subconscious and sabotage you. It will permeate your thoughts, words, and actions. Without intending, you will come across as arrogant, conceited, and selfish. These are not qualities that endear people to you. Consider these five principles to maintain your humility:

  1. Seek feedback. Ask those that know you well for their candid and constructive feedback. Ask if your style, tone, or content has any arrogance to it. Be accessible and maintain an open-door policy where people can share their thoughts with you without fear of reprisal.
  2. Test your motives. Consider why you do what you do. Do you lead a Bible study for your personal enjoyment or to help others? When in meetings, are you willing to let others do most of the talking? Do you give your children a chance to explain themselves or are you quick to apply a heavy hand of discipline because you can. Bring into your consciousness your true motives.
  3. Know your responsibility. Realize your responsibility as a leader is to lead people, not to exercise your power over them. Your value-add is often invisible. It is what your constituents do that validates your leadership, not what you do yourself. Focus on helping and enabling others. It will come back to you like the repayment of a loan, with interest.
  4. Ground your confidence in yourself. Don’t depend on the perceptions of others for your self-confidence. If you do, you will be on a constant roller coaster ride. Your mood and self-esteem will constantly go up and down by no cause of your own. You may not be perfect, but neither is anyone else. Strive to improve yourself, but be confident in yourself as you are. Don’t feel like you need to brag on yourself in order to receive validation from others.
  5. Know how to promote your value-add. There are occasions when people need to understand your value-add. Customers, investors, and supporters need to know that their resources are being put to good use. You can toot your own horn without being conceited. Focus on your constituents and the benefits to them. It is about them, the results, the team, and the value-add itself. It is not about what you did. Be careful about using the “I” word, especially when it should be the “we” word.

Follow these five principles to keep your pride in check and your leadership in top shape.

Questions: Is your leadership marked by humility? What are some of the ways you see pride seeping into your interaction with others?
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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Geoff Webb

    Great post Mike. This cuts to the crux of great leadership. As humans we all suffer from rampant self-absorption – put yourself in a leadership role and it escalates exponentially! But in the end, it is your followers that make you a leader, not you. If no one is following you, you're not leading – you're just taking a walk!

    I think the key to being humble as a leader is finding the balance between being yourself and getting over yourself!

    My recent post Leading with Attitude

    • Mike Hawkins

      You're right. Leadership requires finding balance. I think too that we tend to base our confidence on what others think of us. We need to realize we are all equal in God's eyes. We are all created in His image. We each have a unique combination of talents, experiences, knowledge, and values that make us special, regardless of what others think. It is easier to be humble when we realize this.

  • John Richardson

    Mike, an insightful post on a tough subject. I meet with a group of guys on Thursday mornings, and we have been studying C.J. Mahaney's book, Humility: True Greatness. It is a challenging book that explores how much weight God has placed on humility. The premise of the book is taken from Isaiah 66:2, "This is the one whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word."

    I have discovered many areas in my life where I struggle with pride. It is a constant battle. But God is faithful to draw us closer when we take on a servant mindset like Jesus did. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive in the world’s eyes, a true servant mindset not only leads to a better life, but a better business too.

    My recent post You Gotta See This!

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  • patriciazell

    Excellent post, Mike–one that speaks to me. One of the struggles I've had about writing my book is my motive, and I've seen a real change of motive over the years. Previously, my writing was all about me and my success. Now, it's about God's love. I think the turning point was when God painted a picture for me in my mind. Yes, I might be one of the first to reach the door of the understandings I have about God's love, but my job is to hold the door open for others. (I'm nothing, but God is everything.) I think good leaders realize that–the purposes of their leadership are much greater than their own personalities.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is a test.

  • John Richardson

    Mike, an insightful post on a tough subject. I meet with a group of men on Thursday mornings and we have been studying C.J. Mahaney's new book, Humility: True Greatness. Based on Isaiah 66:2, "This is the one whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word," this book has been truly eye opening. We all struggle with pride and it's only when we take on a servant mindset like Jesus did that we can truly please God.

    You really nailed it in bullet five…
    Focus on your constituents and the benefits to them. It is about them, the results, the team, and the value-add itself. It is not about what you did.
    This is so true and if followed can have an amazing impact on your business success.
    Thank you for reminding us all where the focus truly needs to be.

    My recent post You Gotta See This!

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  • Brent Logan

    Another test. Feel free to delete. :-)

  • Kevin_Martineau

    Great principles here! The one that I most identified with is "Test your motives." I need to be doing this ALL the time.

  • AimeeLS

    "Ground your confidence in yourself" ???

    Surely those among us who know the real God should be grounding our confidence in HIM? And before you tell me you aren't just writing for Christians, ask me if that should make a difference.

    • Mike Hawkins

      I agree with you. Clearly as believers we ground our confidence in Him. I certainly do. It is when we do that we fully accept ourselves. The issue for many people, Christians and non-Christians, that I wanted to empahisize was that you don't depend on others for your confidence. Don't require others to validate you. You validate yourself. Perhaps there is a better wording that could have been used.

  • Mike St. Pierre

    The final point about knowing when and how to promote your own value-add is subtle and profound. I think that a great leader knows the difference between "sucking up" and tooting their own horn appropriately.
    My recent post Sometimes You Just Have to Work

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  • daletedder

    I just read a book on humility by Wayne Mack that addressed many of these ideas. It was interesting how often suggestions for how to become more humble involved taking the focus off of self and placing it on God and others. It seems that when you pursue humility in and of itself, you never quite achieve it. But when you focus on God and others, you're better able to grow in humility. Thanks for the great post.

  • Steve240

    You might find the following blogs of interest about C.J. Mahaney and the group he leads, Sovereign Grace Ministries:

    They tell another side. Hope this helps.

  • Rachel Rowell

    I LOVE this post. Lots of great stuff for me to chew on.
    My recent post I’m A Twit

  • Rachel Rowell

    I LOVE this post. Lots of great stuff for me to chew on.
    My recent post I’m A Twit

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  • Keith

    I love this article! Keep up the good work.

    Keith Johnson has a free “The Art of turning Dreams into Realty” eBook and a one hour seminar download. Free Confidence Building Resources

  • Beyond Horizons

    One important point that I feel the need
    to add is the fact that as a leader, you need shouldn’t let pride come in the
    way of acknowledging your mistakes. Humility is essential for a good
    leader. You need to be able to admit that even you can make a mistake, overlook
    something or the fact that someone might have a better idea than you, no matter
    how experienced and knowledgeable you are.

    – Sindoora (