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Leadership Thought #328 – Power Doesn’t Always Bring Out The Best In People

Sometimes I am a little late to the party and only recently discovered the powerful original STARZ TV seriesBoss” starring Kelsey Grammar.  It sure is a departure from his typical roles as he plays a brilliant yet dark and ruthless Mayor of Chicago who recently was diagnosed with a life threatening illness.  The power he evokes on the screen is quite remarkable. You get the sense that maybe he started out with the right intentions but then became obsessed with power and position at all costs.  It’s actually hard to identify a protagonist in this show.   The scripts and acting are a very clever take on what has always happened to leaders throughout history.  It’s pretty obvious that both Shakespeare and Machiavelli are a huge influence on the writers.

After watching the whole first season, a number of things jumped out at me as someone who studies leadership for a living:

  • Achieving and maintaining power for the sake of power is a slippery slope and leads you to actions you wouldn’t ever consider under any other circumstances.
  • Never forget why you are doing what you are doing.  It easy to get caught up in the process and forget about what inspired you in the first place.
  • Once you compromise your values it becomes much easier to do it repeatedly and move towards rationalizing aberrant behavior.
  • No one should view themselves as above reproach or above the law (not even the president). People are always watching, waiting and rooting for you to get caught.
  • You are the sum total of your actions and you and often those close to you will eventually have to deal with the consequences of your bad behavior.
  • No one wins if everyone loses; compromise is an integral part of leading people and institutions.
  • If you buy your loyalty it will be vulnerable to those with deeper pockets.
  • If you lead through fear most people will be afraid to tell you what you need to hear.
  • How you treat others matters. They will hold to their resentment for years to come back at you when the timing is right.  Those that feel unfairly treated tend to have a long memory.
  • All careers have their ups and downs and your character is usually forged in the fires of adversity not when everything is going great. 
  • Institutional decay will fester for years but eventually the cracks in the foundation will broaden and deepen to the extent that failure is inevitable.
  • You will end up emotionally alone and lonely if you just care about yourself and only allow others into your life as they suit that purpose.

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