The 7 Deadly Sins of Leadership

May 7, 2012 8 Comments

7 Deadly SinsYes, I recently wrote about the 7 deadly sins of entrepreneurship.  This is the same construct but instead on the topic of leadership.  Hey, don’t judge me – if Hollywood can take a good concept and reuse it with a different angle, so can I.

Leadership is perilous territory.  People’s lives are at stake (sometimes literally).  While avoiding the following 7 deadly sins won’t guarantee you’ll be a great leader, succumbing to them will guarantee you’ll have a significant learning moment (translation: you’ll fail miserably but hopefully you’ll learn something from it).

We’re human (if you’re not, lemme know because I’ve always wanted to meet either a zombie or an android).  We make mistakes.  We succumb to temptation, pressure, and insecurity.  Many times we don’t intend to behave badly but it happens to all of us.  Sometimes we’re left wondering how the heck we ended up in a certain predicament and other times we deliberately choose the wrong choice.

The following are common ways you might find yourself in trouble and, more importantly, things you can do to avoid that trouble or extricate yourself from it.


Don’t worry – we’re not talking about sex here.  But I am talking about appearances.  While it’s important to dress the part of a leader and to be charismatic and have sex appeal, more than a hint of it can be your undoing.  Sex appeal is like cologne or perfume.  It needs to be understated because the moment you even think about being too charismatic, you’ve gone too far and you reek of it.  Let your actions and achievements attract others to be members of your team – not your Gucci Armani Coach Louis Vuitton Polo ensemble.


Resources are scarce.  Budgets, people, IT support, etc. are all at a premium.  If you’re lucky enough to have some of these assets, bully for you.  As a leader, you must resist the urge to hoard these resources.  You’ll be seen as not being a team player and you’ll hurt other areas of your business who need the resources more than you do.  When you’re offered resources, take only what you need.  Being a resource pig is a quick way to earn a bad reputation.


If you’re in leadership role for the money, you’ve got it all wrong.  You’re responsible for the care and feeding of the people around you.  Doing it for cold, hard cash is the antithesis of being a servant leader.  Don’t get caught focusing on the raise, the bonus, or the corner office.  It will come back to haunt you when everyone on your team quits in search of a leader who cares more about them than they do about stock options.  Keep your priorities straight – if you lead well, the compensation will naturally follow.


Don’t be a paper pusher who signs off on things in between rounds of Minesweeper and Solitaire.  Every once in a while you need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.  Being a lazy ass who does nothing but preside because you’re a president/vice president or direct because you’re a director will earn you nothing but disdain.  Your team members model your behavior.  If you’re lazy, they’ll be lazier.  If you bust your behind, you can expect great things from them.


Things at work will make you mad (especially if you’re exceedingly passionate about the work you do).  When things go poorly, you might have the urge to explode and take it out on the nearest team member, colleague, or boss.  Don’t.  Check yourself before you wreck yourself (Ice Cube!).  The ability to restrain your anger and instead redirect it into fixing things will go a long way.  No one wants to work for a hot head.  Practice counting to 10.  Wait a day before sending that scorching email.  Go take a walk.  No matter what, don’t lose it.


You want that corner office and the peach of a parking spot, don’t you?  Focusing on the roles, possessions, and achievements of others is cancerous.  It leads you to get distracted from the things that really matter – the members of your team.  All of us want to get promoted and advance our careers.  There are two paths to doing so – getting pulled up by those above us or getting pushed up by the members of our teams.  Avoid the temptation to covet those things above you and instead focus all your time, energy, and attention on your team.  You’ll be in the corner office before you know it.


If you’re too busy telling others about your accomplishments, you’re not improving your business.  We all have a desire for rewards and recognition and all of us are good at what we do.  But instead of telling people how awesome you are (and likely deriding others in the organization along the way), let other people sing your praises.  It’s your boss’ job to promote your accomplishments – not yours.  Do incredible things for your boss, your team, your customers, your partners, etc.  When you do, they’ll be more than happy to tell people how great you are.  And no matter how much they praise you, don’t let it go to your head because doing so will be your downfall.

There you have it – seven deadly sins that will derail you on your leadership journey and make you twitter and facebook fodder (and not in a good way). Avoid these failure points and temptations if you truly are interested in being a leader of character.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

8 Responses to “The 7 Deadly Sins of Leadership”

  1. Moira says:

    And consider this – if as a leader you commit these sins, then perhaps you are not a Leader at all!

    • Pat B says:

      Valuable insights Mike. Every organization has some people who will try and tear down others for their own benefit. In addition, some self promotion is warranted but 90% of it must be about what your team does. If you do not practice this, you could be leaving your team at a disadvantage by not promoting their achievements. However, you nail the more important parts of leadership, i.e. action, achieving, team player, helping others improve, set an example with your hard work, self discipline, focus on what your responsible for, etc…. Thank you!

  2. Pride is the biggest challenge for most leaders that I have seen. We get a few wins and we start believing the press clippings and loose touch with seeking to understand.

    “Pride comes before the fall…” as we have seen with so many once market leaders.

    Market leaders understand they must be constantly in tune with their market, their teams, and the markets problems. They must adapt and not rest on past understandings.

    Humility actually drives innovation, why not try some?

    Great article

    Mark Allen Roberts

  3. tom says:

    absolute rubbish. self promotion is key in any organisation. do not rely on others because they have their own agendas

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      I feel really bad for you Tom. Either you’ve been screwed over multiple times by others (which has led to your jaded perspective) or you’re in a very culturally-unhealthy organization. My advice? Either change jobs or take a vacation.

      • Cheryl says:

        I recently resigned from a position where the boss took credit for everything I produced. I don’t mind sharing credit with others but I was left out of major meetings where the boss talked about what I developed and used the materials I developed (which belonged to the company so should be shared) as if she developed them. I was never even given credit for being a part of developing these materials which the company now thinks will be one its big sellers. While I am happy to share credit with others, I don’t understand bosses who are not. Others in the division I was in told me about this meeting and wondered why I wasn’t presenting the informatin because the boss didn’t even seem to know how to explain it. It seems like this behavior is more typical and atypical. Am I wrong?

  4. Peter says:

    Genuinely a good article and have worked through (good,bad,ugly) most of those aka “the learning moment”. Your thought about “how did we wind up in this situation(post- situation) made me laugh..yes- its a humdinger of a challenge to find that balance in the race to leave our mark on an org and not get caught up in the distracting details.


  5. James Strock says:

    Good list! In the end, one might well say it all comes down to the question: Who Are You Serving? Each of the failings you mention is an example of a “leader” putting themselves ahead of others. That is, they are serving themselves rather than others, which is the antithesis of leadership.

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