The most influential leaders inspire us without even being aware of it. They lead by example. Instead of using their position and power for personal perks and privileges, they find a way to bless others. This axiom made it to my “top ten” list awhile back as I reflected on nearly forty years of leadership in preparation for speaking to some young aspiring leaders.

Bighorn Sheep above Summit Lake on Mount Evans, Colorado. For more of Dennis’ photography, see

We’ve all seen leaders who’ve become mesmerized by their own success. They worked hard. They served others. They were rewarded. They climbed each step to the top of the mountain. They believed all their admirers. They were offered perks and privileges. And then. They demanded those advantages and opportunities. They expected respect, honor and special treatment. Some followers begin to lose respect. Even become resentful. Others, draft as close to the leader as possible so they too can enjoy the rewards.

One of my favorite leadership books of the last fifteen years is Good to Great, authored by leadership expert, Jim Collins. Jim writes how Boards of Directors typically believe that transforming a company from good to great requires an extreme personality, an egocentric chief to lead the corporate charge. But that’s not the case. A necessary ingredient for taking a company to greatness is having a “Level 5” leader, an executive in whom extreme personal humility blends paradoxically with intense professional will.

Level 5 leaders aren’t afraid to pick up trash in the parking lot as they walk toward their office. And if others see them, they feel inspired to join them in making the grounds cleaner. These extraordinary leaders don’t use their power primarily to get perks and privileges. They use their influence to bless others and gain maximum impact.

In contrast, the leader who is enamored with their own success, becomes the subject of a story in Jim Collins sequel, How the Mighty Fall. Collin’s research revealed five commonalities of those companies which have journeyed from good to great and back to mediocre. The first stage in the movement toward decline is: Hubris Born of Success. Arrogant neglect. Nothing more to learn. Entitlement. “What” replaces “why.” Neglect of the original “flywheel.” These are the markers which Collins and his research team discovered among companies on a downward slope.

“Derailed” by Dr. Tim Irwin echoes the findings of Jim Collins. Irwin writes of derailment as a process with predictable progressions (stages). Stage 1 is a Failure of Self-/Other Awareness. Stage 2 is Hubris: Pride before the Fall. Again, extreme arrogance—the leader’s belief that he or she is the epicenter of an organization’s success.

Bottom line. Legacy-leaving leaders leverage their influence for good. They spend their leadership capital for the good of those who helped make them a success. They use their influence for the good of the organization or for their team, rather than for their personal gain. They recognize blessing, grace or at least luck in their success. They remember they still need to put their pants on each day, one leg at a time.


QUESTION: What have I missed? Have you seen examples of both kinds of leaders? What would you add? I’d love to hear it. Thanks!



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