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NextGen Magazine


HR Expert Explains How Successful Leaders Can Avoid the Risks of Self-Sabotage

Ruth Singleton
Published Date:
Jul 3, 2024


In a situation known as the paradox of success, business leaders at the top of the game are often the most vulnerable to dangerous lapses in judgment. They run the risk of engaging in risky behavior. So writes Teresa A. Daniel, dean and professor of human resource leadership programs at Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky., in Fast Company.

Daniel lists eight common patterns that explain why successful leaders can make poor decisions, and she offers advice on how they can avoid falling into those patterns.

The first pattern is privileged access, meaning that leaders gain greater power and influence. The second, stemming from the first, is greater autonomy, along with less oversight, meaning that leaders can “set their own agendas without direct day-to-day supervision.” The third is increasing isolation at work at home, which entails lack of feedback from colleagues and can result in leaders becoming more out of touch with the reality of their situations. Another trap that successful leaders can full into arises out of discontent with their current status and an increased desire for something more, which can lead to increased stress.

The fifth pattern, overconfidence, can manifest in leaders as abrasiveness, close-mindedness, disrespect of others, and a desire to break rules. This can lead to the sixth pattern, their belief that they have the power to avoid the consequences of their actions or that they are “too smart” to get caught. Another pattern successful leaders may fall into is boredom with their success, combined with an appetite for thrill-seeking and risky behavior. Finally, the very strengths and assets that a leader employed to get to the top can also become liabilities under the right circumstances. Confidence and charisma can easily lead to arrogance and blind spots. 

In order for successful leaders to avoid falling into those patterns, Daniel suggests that they establish “guardrails,” which can help protect them from common risk points. As examples, she mentions 360-degree performance feedback, executive coaching, and leadership training. She also advocates policies that promote a healthy balance between the executive’s work and personal life, as well as access to a therapist, counselor, or Employee Assistance Program.

Daniels concludes, “No matter how much power and success they have, leaders need to understand that they can quickly lose it all if they start to believe their own press, stop striving for excellence, and give in to the inevitable temptations that wait for them at the top.”