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Are You Corruptible?

Are You Corruptible?
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I have been disturbed by the change in behavior of several humble, high-character, good friends who had become CEOs just a few years earlier. Their dismissiveness of others’ problems and their arrogance about their own perspectives was startling.

As a Leader Gains Power, the Boundaries Are Tested

I asked my coach and mentor, Don McMillan, how and why does this shift in leadership behavior happen. He shared that a natural biological shift occurs in our brains when we get power and are not confronted about the poor decisions we make. The less we are asked why we did what we did, the more the boundaries of acceptability can get stretched. Often, CEOs are not held to the boundaries that apply to everyone else. In time, leaders can begin to believe they are brilliant and that whatever they do is in the organization’s best interest. Without boundary correction, it is a one-way street to believing they are correct whatever they do or however they behave.

Research has shown that compared to the general population, there is a disproportionate percentage of leaders who are higher on the psychopathy scale. This accelerates the tendency to believe in making decisions without concern for others’ feelings.

In his book Corruptible, Bryan Klaas explains how the ability to waver from our baseline ethics of trust and respect can shift as we gain power, and the leader can be unaware they are stretching the boundaries of acceptable behavior. He shares that this is based in our genealogy, from the time when we learned to admire and respect the charismatic, forceful leaders who succeeded in protecting the village. These larger-than-life leaders rallied the village to successfully defend itself. While that may have been the case in ancient times, the attributes of today’s great leaders have changed.

Like all learning, there can be an incremental change in the CEO’s behavior. To varying degrees, we all possess a degree of psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Leaders who are insecure, immature, and oriented for immediate gratification can have more of these characteristics. They can be charming and deceiving, and they’re often one step ahead of whomever they are interacting with. If hired, people with these characteristics accelerate their transformation into self-serving, power-dominant leaders who take advantage of others to retain their power, with little understanding of how they make others feel.

Reinforcing Systems and a Disciplined Organizational Culture

It comes down to this: We need systems firmly in place to support our culture of being at our best. This guardrail protects us from our own worst instincts, and it ensures we are always seeking the betterment of the organization and our communities first.

When you have a strong culture with great systems to support it, you will reduce the probability of hiring the wrong kind of leader. And if you do hire the wrong kind of leader, the bad fit will become apparent quickly, because your systems will reveal the violation of your culture of being at your best.

This is one of the reasons why we wrote the book The Shift from Me to Team. If some forms of these non-desirable characteristics are in many, a disciplined culture will enable us to honor who we are meant to be at our best for the benefit of the organization. Good people can remain good because the reinforcing system around them is observing everything they’re doing and providing feedback on how to do it better for the organization next time.

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