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Dangerous Ways Your Virtues as a Leader Can Backfire

Your values and virtues have come to define your leadership ability. That's outstanding. But it can also have a dark side.
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As a leader, you keep your values and virtues at the top of your mind with each step you take.

That might be a dangerous way to run your business.

"When leaders embrace beliefs without understanding and managing the potential side effects, they can get in the way," says Duke Corporate Education global faculty member Jake Breeden. "The more we believe in applying our best traits to the task at hand, the less we question when they might harm instead of help--or how much is too much."

It is this blindness that, according to Breedon, makes even the best of intentions backfire.

In his book, Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits that Masquerade as Virtues, Breeden reveals how leaders, and anyone in the workplace, can overcome dangerous behaviors that are most often viewed as virtues. He refers to these virtues as sacred cows.  Breedon teaches that by understanding the potentially dark side of our sacred cows--hidden traps that lie between good intentions and good results--you can realize your fullest potential.

Breedon cites seven of the most destructive sacred cows, and what to watch out for in these desirable, yet potentially dangerous, virtues:

  1. Balance: A dysfunctional pursuit of balance can lead us to compromise and make unnecessary trade-offs in an attempt to seek safety.
  2. Collaboration: Knowing when and how to work collaboratively vs. collaborating as default will multiply your effectiveness.
  3. Creativity: Narcissism can cause creativity to backfire: a leader feels a need to add her own ideas, creative spark or leave a legacy instead of meeting a real business need.
  4. Excellence: High standards can choke progress when we focus on excellence in process rather than excellence in outcome.
  5. Fairness: Blurring the line between a fair chance and a fair result can backfire. Avoid placing others' needs before yours by default, to accomplish your goals.
  6. Passion: Caring about one part of your work should make you better at other parts. Seek passion with harmony, not obsession.
  7. Preparation: Over-preparing can cause you to avoid action or become so invested in what you prepared that you resist change when it's necessary.

Recognition of these dark sides is your first step. Next, you can work on reimagining these "virtues." For more, check out Breedon's website.

IMAGE: PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier/Getty
Last updated: Mar 18, 2013




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