Career Guide

Leadership’s biggest pitfall

The slippery slope of self-importance

“Self-importance is the biggest danger in leadership.”

Self-importance is behind most of the foolish things leaders do. It keeps leaders ignorant and isolated.

It blinds you to your weaknesses and distorts your view of strength in others. Even insecurity is a symptom of self-importance.

Self-important leaders...

1. Live with a sense of under-appreciation. Others don’t fully appreciate the splendour of self-important leaders.

2. Love to be noticed and need acknowledgement.

3. Expect agreement. Self-important leaders feel offended when challenged. Self-important leaders always have the answer.

4. Idolise the trappings of power. Corner offices, executive limousines, and being rushed to the head of the line seduce leaders to look down on the little people.

5. Support weak team members who aren’t a threat but compete with competent colleagues. How do you feel when colleagues receive praise but you don’t?

6. Work to advance themselves even if it disadvantages the team.

7. Bristle at being under authority. Qualified boards are enemies to self-important leaders.

7 suggestions to deal with self-importance

1. Be important enough to make others important. To make a difference in the world, you must believe you have something to offer.

But remember, you only have two or three remarkable qualities. Everything else you have is average or below average.

2. Let others win. Better yet, help them win.

3. Stop comparing yourself with others. Everyone loses the game of “who has the most toys”.

4. Show up to serve.

5. Admire everyone on the team. Reflect on people’s strengths more frequently than you ruminate on their weaknesses.

Invite everyone in for a “this is what I admire about you” conversation. Don’t add a few weaknesses at the end.

6. Realise leaders are nothing without the people they serve.

7. Acknowledge the temptation of self-importance.

What other symptoms of self-importance do you see in leaders? In what other ways might leaders overcome self-importance?

- Dan Rockwell is a coach and speaker and is freakishly interested in leadership. He is an author of a world-renowned leadership blog, Leadership Freak. To get in touch with Dan, write to us at

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