For those pursuing leadership, beware of two troublesome figures vying for your attention: Greed and Envy. Greed often appears desirable because it represents the pursuit of wealth and success, encouraging the desire for more, often at the expense of others. Envy stirs up a longing for what others have, making people feel discontented and jealous, tempting them with the allure of what they don’t possess. These figures represent innate desires that drive human ambition, often derailing busy professionals on the path to effective leadership.
Unchecked, greed and envy can cast a long shadow over leaders, impeding their vision and haunting them with negative consequences.
Greed in Leadership: When leaders prioritize personal gain, wealth, or power over the well-being of their team or organization, they erode trust and morale. This can lead to unethical behavior, such as exploiting employees or making decisions solely for personal financial gain.
Envy in Leadership: Leaders’ envy can manifest as resentment toward colleagues or subordinates perceived as more successful or accomplished. A toxic environment like this leads to undermining others or making decisions out of spite, hindering individual and organizational growth.
Effective leaders prioritize values like integrity, collaboration, and the greater good, but greed and envy often pave the way to a leader’s downfall.
The Roots of Greed and Envy in Leadership
Understanding why greed and envy can fester within leadership is crucial to combat them successfully.
- Power and Influence: Leadership positions often entail substantial power and influence. Some people are drawn to leadership roles because they desire the control and authority that accompanies them. This power can be intoxicating, leading some leaders to prioritize their personal gain over the organization’s or its members’ well-being. The unchecked desire for more power and influence can manifest as greed.
- Competitive Environment: Leadership roles are typically competitive, with individuals vying for these positions to advance their careers. When leaders see their peers or colleagues achieving success or recognition, it can trigger envy. The desire to outperform or outshine others can become a driving force, potentially leading to unethical behavior as leaders become consumed by their desire to maintain or elevate their status.
- Pressure to Succeed: Leaders often face immense pressure to achieve results and meet performance targets. This pressure can be internal and external, as leaders must deliver on their promises and meet stakeholders’ expectations. In these high-stakes situations, some leaders succumb to greed, prioritizing personal gain or short-term success over long-term organizational health and ethical principles.
- Lack of Accountability: In some instances, leaders may believe they are immune to consequences or above the rules due to their position. This sense of impunity emboldens unethical behavior, including actions driven by greed or envy. When leaders perceive themselves as untouchable, they may engage in behaviors that harm others without fearing retribution.
- Cultural and Organizational Factors: The culture within an organization significantly shapes leadership behavior. A corporate culture prioritizing profit at any cost or fostering a cutthroat, hyper-competitive environment inadvertently encourages greed and envy. When leaders believe their success is solely measured by financial gain or outperforming rivals, they are more likely to engage in unethical conduct to achieve these goals.
To combat the negative influence of greed and envy in leadership, organizations must focus on fostering ethical leadership, promoting transparency and accountability, and providing leaders with the tools and support they need to manage the pressures and responsibilities that come with their roles. Better leadership development programs emphasize the importance of empathy, integrity, and a long-term perspective to counteract the destructive effects of these negative emotions.
Celebrating the Wrong Heroes
We have a terrible habit of celebrating the wrong heroes and vilifying those who dare to point it out, calling them sore losers, killjoys, wannabes, or worse. Why do we get it wrong so often?
Society often equates financial success with competence and leadership prowess, leading to the celebration of wealthy leaders because their material success is seen as evidence of their effectiveness. Media outlets focus on sensational stories of competitive leaders, portraying them as “winners” to attract attention. Cultural norms shape views on success and personal gain, with some cultures, cough ours cough highly valuing individualism and personal success to the disservice of other’s team accomplishments. Not everyone fully grasps the negative consequences of greed or envy in leadership. Greedy or envious leaders often provide short-term benefits to certain stakeholders, such as shareholders, even if it comes at the expense of long-term stability.
Continuing to celebrate such leaders unabashedly has detrimental long-term effects on our trust, morale, and ethical standards, and we must quickly strengthen our resistance.
Effective Leadership in the Face of Greed and Envy
Part of what effective leaders do is combat the negative influence of greedy and envious leaders simply through their routine acts of better leadership. They demonstrate ethical behavior, transparency, and a commitment to the greater good. They foster open and honest communication where concerns are voiced and addressed. They establish and reinforce ethical values, emphasizing integrity and fairness. They invest in the development of their team members, inspiring others. Effective leaders hold themselves and others accountable for their actions. They encourage collaboration, diminishing excessively competitive and envious tendencies. They assess leadership performance regularly, providing feedback for improvement. When unethical behavior arises, they take swift and appropriate action to rebuild trust. They implement ethics, leadership, and values-based decision-making programs. They create a supportive organizational culture, counteracting the demoralizing effects of lousy leadership.
Balancing the Scales: Contentment and Altruism
One way to vex the negative influences of greed and envy is for individuals and leaders to embrace contentment and practice altruism:
Contentment is the state of being satisfied with what one has and finding happiness and fulfillment in the present moment. In the context of leadership and combating greed and envy, contentment encourages leaders to appreciate their current achievements and possessions rather than constantly craving more power, wealth, or recognition. Content leaders are less likely to engage in unethical behavior driven by a relentless pursuit of personal gain.
Embracing contentment involves:
- Gratitude: Practicing gratitude for the opportunities and resources available, recognizing that not everyone is as fortunate. This can lead to a more positive and appreciative outlook on leadership.
- Mindfulness: Being mindful of the present moment can help leaders focus on what truly matters and reduce the distractions of materialistic desires. It allows leaders to make ethical decisions based on their values rather than short-term desires.
- Balancing Ambition: Having ambition and drive in leadership is important, but contentment encourages leaders to balance those ambitions with a sense of inner satisfaction and happiness, which can lead to greater ethical and sustainable leadership practices.
Altruism involves prioritizing the well-being of others over personal gain. In leadership, altruistic leaders genuinely care about the welfare of their team members, colleagues, and the organization. They are willing to make decisions that benefit the greater good rather than solely pursuing self-interest.
Embracing altruism involves:
- Empathy: Altruistic leaders understand and empathize with the needs and concerns of their team members. They actively listen and seek to address those needs, creating a supportive and compassionate work environment.
- Generosity: Altruistic leaders are willing to share credit for success, acknowledge the contributions of others, and give recognition where it’s due. They are also more likely to support initiatives that benefit the broader community or society.
- Ethical Decision-Making: Altruistic leaders prioritize ethical decision-making and consider the impact of their choices on all stakeholders, not just themselves.
By embracing contentment and practicing altruism, leaders shift their focus away from comparisons with others and the pursuit of personal gain. Instead, they cultivate compassion, gratitude, and ethical decision-making, which contribute to positive and responsible leadership that benefits not only themselves but also their teams, organizations, and society.
Reducing greed and envy within leadership and society has numerous positive effects, including enhanced collaboration, improved trust, ethical decision-making, increased well-being, social cohesion, innovation, and sustainable growth. It paves the way for a prosperous future where values, not vices, define leadership.
BE THE KIND OF LEADER WHO GIVES A C.R.A.P.
This direct and practical guide is your ticket to becoming a supportive and inclusive leader who makes a positive difference in your team and organization.
About Karl Bimshas
Karl Bimshas is a Boston-bred, California-chilled Leadership Consultant and Writer. As the founder of Karl Bimshas Consulting, he provides customized leadership development resources and accountability partnering for busy professionals who want to manage better and lead well.
With Karl Bimshas Consulting, you become a confident and competent leader without becoming the kind of jerky boss everyone has had and no one wants again, even if your self-confidence has taken a hit.