Vanity versus vision: Which leader's team has a chance to win?

Being customer-focused makes all the difference

There’s a relatively bright line between two types of leaders that I look for when I consider new clients: those concerned primarily with their vanity and those concerned with developing a vision.

Those who think it’s primarily about what the company can do for them and the benefits that they receive often brag about who they were with at dinner with last night, how they “won” their last negotiation and how they single-handedly “saved the day” in the recent hiccup that befell their company. (I’m not writing a political blog, but I leave inferences to you.)

Those more concerned with vision versus vanity are different animals. They’re outwardly focused; customers and co-workers are their primary emphasis. They say that they were lucky to have such a great team in order to climb the big hill.

The fruits of their labor might be evident, but they’re quick to acknowledge others, realize that they must work in service of their customers and know that success and status are earned, not bestowed. (Speaking of inferences, a leader with the wrong vision is just as dangerous as a vanity-driven leader.)

As French author and nobleman François de La Rochefoucauld said, “Great men have great faults.” No executive is perfect. Short of Mother Teresa on one end and Saddam Hussein on the other, none of us is either all good or all bad, either completely saint or sinner.

Give me a person with a vision, and I’ll show you someone with a chance for the team to win. Give me a vanity-driven leader, however, and, well (to paraphrase Henny Youngman): On second thought, please don’t!

Can you coach someone without a vision to help him or her articulate one? Yes, I believe so.

Can you coach someone primarily concerned with his or her own vanity to care? It’s extremely difficult without using a baseball bat. They’ll most likely go through their life with this affliction or have such a frightening event (something like Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”) that they see the light.

The scenario that breaks my heart is when vision-driven leaders allow themselves to become ensnared by the trappings of wealth and power and become vanity-driven. The key word in that last sentence is “allow.”

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