The Deadliest Sin of Leadership

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” — Albert Einstein

Excellence Road SignDivine Comedy tells the tale of one man’s journey through a three-phased adventure—Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise—in his quest for everlasting life. While stranded in the middle stage of his adventure, Dante has a chilling discovery about life in the everyday world. Stranded in Purgatory, an uncertain state where one’s soul awaits judgment between redemption and retribution, he is enlightened to the wandering ways of the world he has just experienced.

Here, he explains the ills of that world through seven distorted loves, better known as deadly “sins.” These include the excessive loves of Lust, Gluttony, and Greed, the deficient love of Sloth, and the malicious love of Wrath, Envy, and Pride. The abuse of the most pure forms of human interaction, Love, lead to a path of destruction and chaos in the state of Purgatory where Dante finds himself.

My work as a Leadership Consultant has led me through the mind-set of many organizations on a quest to find perpetual success and prosperity. While in this wandering state, I have discovered the most distorted perversion of leadership—the toleration of mediocrity.

Mediocrity is a cunning and crafty creature, the slinks and slides it’s way through a community of people intended for a greater good. It is sometimes guised in charm and humor, winning over fans with its good-natured country attitude. “Mañana! Tomorrow!” is the mantra sung at the end of the day, while rushing down the path toward the comforts of home. Sometimes, it no longer strives, begs, or craves for excellence, but is content with results that are, “good enough.”

When leaders turn a blind eye to, or minimize such attitudes within organizations, it can be a destructive habit-forming virus that slowly erodes the higher vision and values of the community. Far too often, leaders excuse a lack of desire for excellent work because of long-standing relationships with the individuals who consistently host such average behaviors. Some leaders do not know how, or may not have the will to address such subtle behaviors that beg, barrow, and steal from others’ great work, just to cover for their own lack of effort, dedication, or deferred experience to crafting their personal skills at a higher level. Some leaders are, themselves, guilty of the sin of mediocrity.

Millions of individuals throughout the workforce, from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups to non-profits, have pockets of people who, “Quit and Stay” at work. Others are lost or mislead by leaders within the organization, stuck in the rut of performing daily activities without a clear purpose or understanding of how their role contributes to the organization. Even worse, leaders allow average performers to cultivate the poisonous fruit of bitterness and gossip about other high achievers within the organization.

Organizations are only as great as they challenge or permit their contributors to be. If leaders within organizations do not take high performance and effort sincerely, they run the risk of creating a corporate Purgatory by breading a contempt and dismissal of individuals who do value excellence, effort, and efficiency. The deadliest sin of leadership is the aiding and abetting of mediocrity, at work, home, or in life.

About the Author:

Jason Diamond Arnold is a leadership consultant at The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action a real time, real work, leaning experience that develops effective communication and collaboration skills for individuals in the workplace. He is Co Producer and Director of Stepping Up to Leadership with Scott Blanchard, at lynda.com.

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