The ‘Crack Cocaine’ of Leadership

Ego cartoon 1Crack Cocaine has three distinguishing features:

  • It gives the user a short – lived, intense high
  • It is highly addictive
  • It inevitably leads to the user’s downfall

These exact three characteristics are found when business leaders feed their egos.

Let’s be honest, we all stroke our egos.

  • The anecdote or story we tell about how competently we did something or how wonderful we are
  • Those little extra comments we add to a conversation so that everyone knows that we are all wise and all knowing
  • The statements, pictures, and stories that we share with others that draws attention to ourselves as someone special…and better

As leaders, we get hooked on feeding our egos in order to enjoy the ego-boosting high that comes from thinking that we are great.

In his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You Here, Marshall Goldsmith pointed out 21 different leadership behaviors that leaders all too often do and that they need to stop doing in order to be more successful.

eog cartoon 2Of the 21 behaviors, seven directly revolve around the ego and the leadership behavior of feeding our egos:

  • Winning Too Much
    • The need to win at all cost and in all situations – when it matters, when it does not, and when it is totally beside the point
  • Adding Too Much Value
    • The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion
  • Making Destructive Comments
    • The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty
  • Telling the World How Smart We Are
    • The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are
  • Claiming Credit That We Don’t Deserve
    • The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success
  • Refusing to express regret
    • The inability to take responsibility for our actions; admit that we are wrong; or recognize how our actions negatively impact others
  • An Excessive Need To Be “Me”
    • Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they are who we are

What To Do?

To beat this addiction of ego-boosting, we need to work hard each and every day to:

  1. Not get the last word in on every conversation
    1. Repeat to ourselves before saying anything:
      1. “Is what I am about to say really going to add value?”
      2. “Is it worth it?”
  2. Stay in the background when it is someone else’s chance to shine
    1. Do not take-over a colleague or subordinate’s meeting, presentation, or (as so often happens) sales call
  3. Lavish praise on our teams
    1. Even when we may have had a large role in success, we should give credit to others on our team. We may still think ‘I’; but we must always say ‘we.”
  4. Listen
    1. Listen respectfully to what our subordinates or colleagues are saying.
      1. If we agree, we say that we agree (without any further explanation of why we agree)
      2. If we support, we say that we support (without any further comment or embellishment)
  5. Be humble and think of others
    1. As Leadership Consultant Ken Blanchard wrote:
      1. “With humility, people do not think less of themselves, they think of themselves less.”



These five little suggestions are especially difficult to do daily. But, to avoid going down a path already well-trod by countless crack cocaine and ego boosting addicts, we need to follow these suggestions each and every day.

We can do it.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Personal Success, Team / People and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The ‘Crack Cocaine’ of Leadership

  1. Chris says:

    Great article!

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