Cannibalizing Leadership

Cannibalizing Leadership

I live by a principle I have shared with you before. It is this: You have a destiny, but your destiny is fulfilled by investing in the destinies of others.

This truth shapes my entire concept of leadership. My goal as a leader is to draw out the best in people and set them in pursuit of noble goals. To accomplish this, I must invest in people. I must give them what I have been given that will help them become all they can be. This is leadership, and this is what makes for successful people and organizations.

Now, there is an approach to leadership that is the opposite of this. In essence, it reverses the maxim listed above.

I acquired a name for this approach to leadership when I was talking to a friend recently. He shared something with me and then he said, “Don’t tell so and so. He cannibalizes relationships.”

And there it was. The perfect definition for a kind of leadership I often see but which destroys individuals and organizations.

You’ve seen this kind of person. When they meet someone new, they immediate start thinking about what that person can do for them. You can almost see the wheels turning behind their eyes: “What does this guy have that I need.”

Is he an accountant? Well, I need that kind of help. Is he a member of the country club? Well, maybe he can get me in. Oh, his wife is a doctor? Of course, I could use her services. And he has a hunting cabin? Yes, I’m sure he won’t mind if I use it often.

And so it goes. This kind of thinking is typical of the cannibalizer. He or she sees everyone they meet as a resource to exploit rather than a gift to be maximized by investment. The attitude is not “How can I invest in this person to help them to a new level” but rather “What does this person have that I can use.” The first question is leadership. The second is cannibalism.

The problem with cannibalizing is not only that it makes a leader a predator, but also that it creates a cannibalizing culture. People respond to cannibalizing leadership by thinking as the leader does: “What can I get from this guy?” or “How can I use this job for my own benefit without giving up very much?” Now, what you don’t want is a company of grasping people. You want investors. You want people who see their good as being bound up with doing good to others. I know this sounds like something we learned in Sunday School, but it is also how leadership and successful corporate cultures work.

Now for your homework. Remember the three words I want you to “do” after each Leading Thoughts: Ponder, Enlist, Adjust. Ponder your manner of leadership in light of the dangers of cannibalizing. Enlist the input of others on this subject. Adjust how you lead accordingly.

In short, be an investor in people and not a predator, not a cannibalizer.

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