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Leaders Gone Bad: Why Power Turns to Misbehavior

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, David Sokol, Mark Hurd, Lee Farkas. These powerful business leaders have taken over the headlines because they chose to engage in abuses of power. With offenses ranging from bank fraud to sexual assault, one wonders why such smart people would risk their careers in such reckless and destructive ways. Harvard Business School professor Bill George explains the appeal of rule-breaking and why so many prominent leaders end up on the wrong side of the law.

It seems that you can’t open a newspaper without reading about a prominent business leader or politician breaking the rules (or the law). So what drives such smart and powerful people to do such foolish things? Though this topic is not a new one, it is too often repeated. Harvard Business School professor Bill George outlines for Business Insider why powerful leaders often misbehave.

George’s answer is that when given power, many leaders lose their moral bearings. Here are his key points:

  1. Self-reflection: a path to leadership development — not all leaders know why they want to lead; without a desire to do a greater good (besides accumulate wealth) leaders lose track of why they are leading
  2. The leadership trap — leaders become consumed with “external gratification” and lose touch with reality; often times leaders may like power because it overcompensates for shortcomings in their youth
  3. The dark side of leadership — if a leader got to his position by abusing and manipulating others, they have fear that they will be abused, manipulated and replaced themselves
  4. Values-centered leadership — leaders should find an activity that helps them to relieve stress and to focus on serving the people they lead; leadership should revolve around values rather than power
  5. A system to support values-centered leadership — leaders need to surround themselves with people that will help them maintain their focus on values and service

Read: Why Talented Leaders Are Driven To Bad Behavior

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