In November 2020, during the dark days of Covid-19, I had a little more time on my hand than normal and started reading a few books. I stumbled on a new book entitled ‘Leaders Who Lust – Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy’ by Barbara Kellerman and Todd L. Pittinsky and learned more in the first 50 pages than I have in entire semesters in school.
By November 2020, I had decided I’d run for Chester City Council but that campaign wasn’t going to start for a couple months. As a Chester community journalist for so many years, I was familiar with many of the personalities in City Hall and there were many things I just couldn’t understand especially how decisions were made in there. Unexpectedly, I didn’t have to go beyond the prologue and first chapter of this book to get a clear understanding of the leadership style reminiscent of Chester’s mayor Thaddeus Kirkland.
Here’s some of the passages I found eye-opening.
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Leaders in America are expected to balance their need for power with behaviors that are socially acceptable. Some leaders want to lead. Some leaders want to lust.
Leadership is a system of three parts – leaders, followers, and the context within which each of these leaders and their followers were located.
Lust implies a fervor to acquire, achieve, or consume that is out of the ordinary – that is so extreme it is extraordinary.
Lust can result in good outcomes or in bad ones. Lust is either good or bad. It is an excess, and excess generally is seen as unseemly, unsuitable, undesirable, especially in leaders. When leadership and lust are in tandem, they usually connote outcomes of consequence.
But leaders who lust can be good – they can be ethical and effective.
Leaders who lust never rest. It is an impulse that persists and is relentless. Leaders who lust continue to lust until the end of their days.
Six different types of lust that are the most indicative and important to leadership:
- Power – a ceaseless craving to control.
- Money – a limitless desire to accrue greater, and then still greater wealth.
- Sex – go on constant, countless, jaunts for sexual gratification.
- Success – an unstoppable need to achieve.
- Legitimacy – tirelessly claim identity and demand equity.
- Legacy – long, effectively lifelong, to leave an imprint that is permanent.
NEW vs OLD LEADERS
Initially, leaders are inclined to conceal their zeal to accrue power. After a while, leaders display their pursuit of power, sometimes proudly, even to the point of flaunting it. Leaders with a lust for power are permitted and enabled by their followers to accumulate more power than is optimum. They sometimes accumulate power:
- to the point of systemic dysfunction.
- to the point of making many of their followers miserable.
- to the point of doing harm to institutions as well as individuals.
One of the problems associated with being a leader is that holding power tends, especially over time, to make us less sensitive and sympathetic to the well-being of others. Instead of being decent and honest, as they were early on, over time they become reckless and rude – and too often corrupt.
Leaders enhance themselves by regularly enlisting new recruits, new followers, over whom they can exert power. They need to keep looking for new recruits, for new people, followers far less powerful than they, followers they can dominate.
Sometimes leadership is excessive and followers can be and frequently are attracted to leaders who are extreme.
How and why followers put up with such leaders – with leaders whose acceptable interest in power has evolved into an insatiable and indefensible lust of power – is hard to understand. Even the worst leaders provide their followers with benefits. These can include safety and security, as well as stability and certainty. These can also include the promise of rewards for going along – as well as the threat of punishments for not going along. Followers tend to continue to follow the path they’ve been on, even when there is growing and finally convincing evidence that the path they’ve been going on is wrong.
Followers continue to support leaders who initially were good, even if over time they turned bad and they’re stuck in a situation in which their own getting out is difficult or even impossible. Once leaders turn bad, it’s late in the game. Followers usually discover they’re stuck with a bad leader who refuses to get out.
This type of leader always wants to dominate. The people with whom he surrounded himself, his followers were genuinely like-minded; others were beholden; still others were weak and scared. He needed to be all-powerful; to control everything and everyone and preferred to keep his operations shrouded in mystery. He made sure that anyone and everyone who worked for him would be, above all, loyal. Loyal not especially to the company, but loyal directly to him and to his political gain. His first order of business was to hire people who were pliable. His power became normalized in the organization that he led for so long.
He cannot depend on a relatively small number of loyal servants. He must prompt people to become loyal and to remain loyal. He seeks to control the many not just a few, the masses not just a handful. His movements are sustained by the unadulterated and unconditional loyalty of their members.
LEADERS WHO STAY AROUND TOO LONG
The more power he gets, the more he wants. His appetite grows with eating. Despite his grip on power, he is never fully secure.
History is cyclical. Whoever goes up, goes down. Because of their lust for power remains indefinitely unsatisfied, they nearly never relinquish power voluntarily.
Leaders who lust for power are prone, once they have power, to behave badly, sometimes increasingly badly. Such leaders must be watched, carefully, so that, if necessary, early in their lives as leaders their wings get clipped by followers wise to their ways – followers clever enough to understand the dangers of despots, and of bully bosses, and courageous enough to intervene to preclude it.
WHAT’S A GOOD LEADER?
Leaders are not self-involved or self-interested. They are considerate of their followers. They take into account not only of what they themselves want and need, but also of what other, their followers, want and need. Leaders arouse, engage, and satisfy the motives of others.
All of the above was in the first 45 pages of the book. The book goes on to describe the 6 types of lust using profiles of leaders most of us know:
Lust for Power: Roger Ailes and XiJinping
Lust for Money: Warren Buffett and Charles Koch
Lust for Sex: John F. Kennedy and Silvio Berlusconi
Lust for Success: Hillary Clinton and Tom Brady
Lust for Legitimacy: Nelson Mandela and Larry Kramer
Lust for Legacy: Bill & Melinda Gates and George Soros
As mentioned early in the book, leaders who lust can be good – they can be ethical and effective. It seems to be more the exception than the rule, especially with the current leadership in Chester.
Chester Deserves Better! VOTE for Stefan Roots on May 16th.
Law 11- Learn to keep people dependent on you. From the book (48 Laws of power) come to mind when reading this article. Most leaders if not all rely on Law 11, whether decent or corrupt. In my opinion a leader’s followers should be independent. Once a follower becomes dependent on the leader, the leaders truth becomes the followers truth, and the leader’s lie becomes the follower’s truth.
I gotta dig out Laws of Power and reread. thanks