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?