The Four Deadly “I’s” of Leadership

By October 30, 2015 August 7th, 2018 No Comments


One of my clients, who happens to be a good personal friend, recently relayed the following to me, “Experience is the residue of failure.” I would add, “We must learn from the lessons of experience, otherwise, it’s just an experience.” The lessons of the past are best exhumed by gazing into the mirror of self-reflection. Perhaps from the ungoverned haze of my current allergy affliction, I am compelled to share the following leadership lessons – life lessons – that extend beyond the boardroom and stretch to the parlor room. By sharing this, I will…

Leave my ego at the door.

This is leadership lesson number one. My lived vision of leadership is to work with, through and for people. “It”, the enterprise, the purpose of our existence, is not so much about me as it is about the collective – the company. The company is that collection of individuals who unite together to serve their own interests. There is rent due, mortgages to pay off, cars to buy or lease and the need to put food on the table. Basic needs that when met, can secure the platform for potential that create lifestyle options. Those who are able to see, seize and create opportunity will reap the rewards commensurate with their willpower, intellect, talent and personality. As a caveat, traits and skills, looks and personality do not necessarily translate into success. We must find or make our way forward in an industry that recognizes and rewards those skills and traits which we bring to the conference room table. Awareness can bring choice, and choice will dictate course. Here they come, swinging on vines…

Those monkeys will try to jump on your desk.

Through time, I’ve taught my coworkers to make every attempt to solve an issue or problem before they even think about dropping it off at my desk. I am open to solution-based discussion and decision, but I have zero tolerance for problem-solving that can be accomplished by those direct reports entrusted and compensated to perform this function. The monkeys are problems others can solve. Unless you work in a zoo – don’t let your office become a cage for monkeys.

Getting rid of monkeys comes at a price. When you encourage people to think, they will make mistakes. We can live with errors of omission if the coworker is willing and able to learn the lessons from the experience. You will find that your coworkers will be much more productive from the freedom of expression you encourage. This will free you to work on those things that generate income, develop product and create profit as your people grow from autonomy and the freedom to think and do. Know that, when there is too much “thinking” and not enough “doing”, you run the risk of developing an environment rife with personal politics…

Politics exist in every office… or party of three.

At times, you will be forced to navigate, position, council and perhaps eliminate, the pockets of politics that exist in your office. Work to separate the personality from the performance, and live the example that you intend as brand and reputation for your company. You will often struggle in the dark with the question, “Why can’t everyone just focus on the goal, earn increased income, collaborate and cultivate success?” The short answer: because it’s in the nature of people to harbor jealousy, exhibit animosity and, at times, choose either avoidance or conflict to assume a position of power. In a nutshell, power is finite, authority must be situational and influence can be exponential. I live this line. By the way, influence is earned through consistent action, alignment with character and the extension of empathy. Nurture what you can in others by learning first of your nature (Know Thyself). “…for the hardest victory is the victory over self..” – Aristotle. I think if you can apply some of what you learn, you can gain a foothold on the steps to happiness. You will become disappointed in people, but…

Once you understand the nature of people, you can use this level of awareness to govern the self.

Choose to control your emotional bandwidth. Your emotional wake (think boats going through a harbor and the waves that are produced from the speed) will affect people in either a positive or negative way. Know that you can’t work on people… unless you’re a doctor, of course. But you can provide the example, show the way and walk the talk. By now you’ve learned that a person must work on themselves if they feel the pain of status-quo, or perceive the advantage in doing so. And since life…

…is forward motion, growth is essential for survival. If we do not expand our box of understanding, by learning and applying the important lessons that can propel us forward, we will atrophy intellectually and stymie our personal and professional growth. Growth is difficult. It combines willpower, preparation, chance, choice, failure and triumph in a metaphorical board game where the only path to success or victory is through obstacles that would impede both. In some cases…

…you will be the obstacle. In my way of thinking, the Four Deadly “I’s” of Leadership fallibility are individuality, intractability, infallibility and invincibility. Remember, leave your ego at the door. When a leader thinks they are the reason or purpose of the exercise, their thinking leads them to believe they are the individual solely responsible for the creation and perpetuation of the enterprise. Individuality can lead to intractability. When you are intractable, you are unwilling to budge off an entrenched position or contemplate, change or adapt your idea, system or thought. Intractability can trump logic, it is an anchor of emotion planted in the terra-firma of fear. Intractability is a derivative of individuality. Intractability is often summoned from your inner-bully. It can be a downright mean-spirited, put-your-people-in-fear-of-coming-to-you posture. If you are unwilling to bend, at some point, your people will break. Infallibility is perhaps the most dangerous of the Four Deadly “I”s of Leadership. When we begin to think that we can do no wrong, walk on water and turn every plot of chicken doo-doo into chicken salad, we run the real risk of entering into the realm of delusion. When leadership fosters and lives in a state of delusion, they lose the hearts and minds of those people who soon come to realize that the emperor has no clothes. Sycophants tell a person what they want to hear, kiss their derriere, and lose their self-respect on the altar of flattery. Flattery is a weak person’s limp. The need to be liked, the need to be pandered to and the need to surround yourself with “yes” people will populate the “state of delusion.” The bold and brave economic engines of today will not be led, at least for long, by people who exhibit the Four “I”s.

It’s a matter of time until we make the fatal mistake of confusing infallibility with omnipotence. Know the difference between power and influence – learn to influence more and control less. The more you influence, the more you will direct, grow and flourish as a person and as a company. Learn to embrace your vulnerability. Lean on your allies and direct reports for intelligence. Be willing to study, entertain and possibly implement a modified or new system, approach or product. Life expresses itself in forward motion. Besides, what fun is it engaging in the same thing every day with the expectation of a different bounce or result?

“Always Forward!”


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