How to Battle the Seductions of Success

Why do so many "leaders" such as Anthony Weiner fall to temptation? Is there anything we can do to prevent such a tragedy in our own careers and personal lives?

In a post on Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, professor Bill George has ignited a hot debate on the subject. His view is that top managers -- like star athletes and actors -- are treated as if they walk on water. Sycophants feed their egos, shareholders sing their praises (as long as the stock price rises), socialites want to A-list them, and publishers want to pay them for their words of wisdom. Pretty soon these folks are believing what they hear, accepting that decent and ethical rules of behavior don't apply to them. George writes:

"Leaders who lose their way are not necessarily bad people; rather, they lose their moral bearings, often yielding to seductions in their paths. Very few people go into leadership roles to cheat or do evil, yet we all have the capacity for actions we deeply regret unless we stay grounded."

Some of George's readers took him to task over the good-person-gone-wrong assertion. Could Dominique Strauss-Kahn, if found guilty of attempted rape of a hotel maid, possibly be a good person at heart? One commentator wrote that bad behavior has nothing do do with a short-circuited moral sense; rather, it's a short circuit in the brain's wiring that's to blame. Another reader offered that charismatic executives become so successful at playing the role of "Great "Leader" that they lose sense of who they really are.

My take is that people are born with more or less equal senses of right and wrong, which is further shaped by biology, environment, and experience. But at the end of the day we are self-determined. So that's why I like George's cure to prevent leaders from losing their way: self-reflection.

"This requires reframing their leadership from being heroes to being servants of the people they lead," he continues. "This process requires thought and introspection because many people get into leadership roles in response to their ego needs. It enables them to transition from seeking external gratification to finding internal satisfaction by making meaningful contributions through their leadership."

What's your view. Why do leaders go bad, and what can be done to prevent it from happening?

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(Photo by Flickr user markhillary, CC 2.0)