• Tuesday, October 03, 2023
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The self-serving syndrome of leadership

The self-serving syndrome of leadership

In a world where leadership is essential for progress, the actions of those at the helm can make or break an organization or society. We often celebrate leaders who demonstrate vision, charisma, and decisiveness, but it is crucial to shine a light on a less-discussed yet equally important aspect of leadership: self-serving attitudes.

Leaders with self-serving attitudes can be found across industries and sectors, their ranks spanning from the corporate boardrooms to the halls of government. Their modus operandi prioritizes personal gain over collective well-being, subtly undermining trust and cohesion within their teams and organizations. These leaders, driven by a relentless pursuit of self-interest, may appear successful in the short term but often leave a trail of disillusionment and disengagement in their wake.

The Self-Serving Leader is one who prioritizes their own advancement, financial gain, or reputation over the interests of their team, organization, or the broader community they serve. This behaviour can manifest in various ways, from a leader who constantly takes credit for team achievements to one who hoards resources for personal projects while neglecting crucial team needs.

Addressing self-serving leadership requires a multi-faceted approach that recognizes the complexity of human behaviour and motivations

What is the cost of selfish leadership?

The consequences of self-serving leadership ripple far and wide, affecting not only the individuals directly involved but also the broader organization and society at large. Here are some of the costs we bear:

I. Erosion of employee morale:

Self-serving leaders often create an atmosphere of mistrust and insecurity among team members. When employees sense that their leader is primarily concerned with personal gain, it erodes their motivation and commitment.

II. Innovation stifled:

Innovation thrives in an environment of collaboration and openness. Self-serving leaders who prioritize their own ideas and interests over those of their team inhibit the free exchange of ideas, stifling innovation and creativity.

III. Culture of fear and self-preservation:

Organizations led by self-serving leaders often develop a culture where employees are driven by self-preservation rather than a collective commitment to organizational goals. Fear of reprisals or favoritism becomes the norm.

IV. Higher turnover rates:

Talented individuals are more likely to leave an organization where self-serving leaders prevail. The cost of recruitment and training to replace departing employees can be substantial.

V. Reduced productivity:

In an environment where trust is lacking and collaboration is discouraged, productivity suffers. Employees spend more time navigating office politics than focusing on their work.

VI. Reputational damage:

Over time, an organization led by self-serving leaders may suffer reputational damage. Word spreads, affecting the organization’s ability to attract top talent, customers, and investors.

What is the path to transformation?

Addressing self-serving leadership requires a multi-faceted approach that recognizes the complexity of human behaviour and motivations. Here are key steps in the journey towards transformation:

1. Awareness:

The first step is acknowledging the issue. Leaders must recognize the impact of their behavior on others and the organization. This recognition often requires an honest and introspective assessment.

2. Self-reflection:

Encourage leaders to engage in deep self-reflection. What drives their self-serving tendencies? What values guide their leadership? Self-awareness is the foundation of meaningful change.

3. Empathy and emotional intelligence:

Developing these qualities can help leaders better understand the needs and perspectives of others. Empathy fosters connection, which is crucial for collaborative leadership.

4. Coaching and mentorship:

Seek guidance from experienced mentors and coaches who can provide insight and accountability. These mentors can help leaders navigate the challenges of change.

5. Transparency and accountability:

Leaders should be held accountable for their actions. Transparent decision-making processes, where possible, help build trust. Hold leaders accountable for their commitments to change.

6. Rewards for collaborative leadership:

Recognize and reward leaders who demonstrate collaborative and selfless behavior. Create a culture where collaboration and serving the common good are valued and celebrated.

A collective responsibility

Transforming self-serving leaders into selfless, inclusive, and compassionate ones is not the sole responsibility of the leaders themselves. It is a collective endeavour that involves organizations, employees, stakeholders, and society as a whole.

Organizations should develop leadership development programs that emphasize ethical leadership, empathy, and collaboration. Employees can actively participate in providing feedback and support for leaders who are committed to change. Stakeholders, including investors and customers, can influence organizations to prioritize ethical leadership and values-based decision-making.


In a rapidly changing world, leadership that serves the common good is not a luxury but a necessity. As we confront global challenges, from climate change to social inequality, leaders with a selfless attitude are indispensable. It’s time to redefine leadership success not solely by individual achievement but by the positive impact on the collective.

Let us encourage and empower leaders to be the change they wish to see. In the end, the true measure of leadership greatness lies not in self-service but in selflessness—the ability to inspire, unite, and uplift, leaving a legacy of positive change for generations to come.

The call for transformation is not just for the leaders but for all of us who recognize the importance of ethical, compassionate, and collaborative leadership in shaping a brighter future for our organisations and society.