Politicians. Hollywood figures. National news personalities. Professional athletes. College athletes. Coaches. Pastors. Military leaders. Recently, it feels like a big rock is being rolled away and underneath it is a lot of ugly and dirty stuff. The dirt is not new, just newly exposed. We could easily begin to think that sex is now the main culprit in ruining people’s lives, but in reality, it is only one way. In fact, the far majority of leaders who ruin themselves do so without inappropriate sexual indulgence. If you want to ruin your life and career, all it takes is doing one or more of these six things.
1. Believe others when they tell you how really, really special you are.
You know what a narcissist sees when they look in the mirror? Someone who is exceptional and entitled! Narcissists are people who have an extraordinarily high view of themselves, with an exaggerated view of their uniqueness and strengths which results in extraordinary self-centeredness. They begin to think they are invincible, and before long, they start to act invincible, using and abusing both people and power.
2. Isolate yourself since you are really special.
An isolated leader is a dangerous leader. Why? Because when you are isolated, you lose perspective since you have few people available to help you see yourself more accurately, warn you of danger, and protect you from what you cannot see. Leaders are notorious for isolation. Common self-talk such as “it’s lonely at the top” perpetuates and legitimizes isolation, and too much time alone can wreak havoc in the life of a leader.
3. Hone your skill at being a jerk.
We can all be annoying at times, right? Just ask our spouses, children, or co-workers. But there is a difference between being annoying and being a jerk. How do people handle working with a jerk? They avoid them by limiting interaction, escape them by looking for another job, or confront them by telling them, “You’re a jerk!” People don’t like being around someone who is not nice, and eventually you will face the consequences for how you act.
4. Treat alcohol or drugs like toys rather than guns.
A large number of people consume alcohol or take prescription drugs without abusing them. Yet, many leaders who have behaved badly and made decisions that ruined their lives did so while under the influence. Misused, alcohol and drugs mess with the brain (the source of decision-making) which often results in altering our judgment leading to really bad outcomes.
5. Repeat this phrase often: “It can’t happen to me.”
If you tell yourself this often enough, you will believe it. I have talked to leaders who thought they would never be the one to have an affair, embezzle, abuse their power, or lose their position, and yet they were. All of us are vulnerable to catastrophic failures and it is only the fool who thinks “I’m better than they are,” “I’m smarter than they are,” or “I’m more righteous than they are.”
6. Ignore input from others. After all, what do they know?
Want to ruin your life real fast? Ignore the counsel of others. Or, just seek input from those who already agree with you. That will make you feel better and allow you to say that you do get input. While too much input can be conflicting and confusing, too little is a sure fire way to miss out on the insights, warnings or expertise that can prevent damaging your career.
Every one of us falls short in some area of our lives. But there is a difference between knowing and managing our limitations and shortcomings versus claiming to not have any. I have never met a leader who wants to intentionally ruin his or her life. But it can happen unless we make every effort to guard against destructive behaviors and to live and lead with a spirit of both teachability and humility.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of ministry assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include a B.S. in Bible, a M.Ed in Instructional Systems Design and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership.