The Dark Side of Leadership Success

“There’s a dark side of leadership success, and many don’t like talking about it.”

There’s a dark side of leadership success, and many don’t like talking about it.

It can leave you feeling empty. If you’re not careful, it can lure you into a false mindset that says, “Since I’m so awesome, I can do anything.” The more successful you are, the more opportunities you’ll pursue. This mindset leads you down the path towards “the undisciplined pursuit of more,” according to author Jim Collins.

The Undisciplined Pursuit of More

Past success lures you into pursuing “more ventures, more opportunities, more acclaim and more of whatever you see as success,” Collins says. We behave as if we’re King Midas and believe everything we touch turns into gold. In turn, we lose sight of what we truly value and soon lose passion for these pursuits. It happened to King Solomon and it can happen to you, too.

Solomon’s Undisciplined Pursuit of More

The King of Israel pursued several unrelated goals in a vain attempt to please himself. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 provides a good example of a leader who didn’t know how to get what he wanted. By the time Solomon wrote these words, he had reached a high level of success—but still felt empty.

He couldn’t put his finger on why fulfillment continued to escape him. Because he lacked focus, he searched high and low, experimenting with all kinds of goals, yet never achieved satisfaction. Sadly, he attempted to solve an inward problem with an outward solution.

The old axiom remains true: If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. This was true of Solomon’s futile attempts to reach his varied goals. (He pursued eight goals in Ecclesiastes 2 alone!) So, what can we learn from Solomon about focus?

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1.He pursued too many things in too short a time.
2. He pursued the wrong goals to reach his desired outcome.
3. His self-serving goals were all wrong.
4. He despaired because he never identified what he wanted.

A Checklist for Making Decisions

Solomon did narrow his focus, but it took him a lifetime and an entire book to do so (see Ecclesiastes 12). He finally determined what mattered and what he wanted. How about you? Have you figured out your focus? How do you make major decisions?

Do you have a way of determining your focus based on what matters or what counts? Consider the following checklist as you make decisions about where to invest your time and energy. Ask yourself:

1. Is this consistent with my priorities?
2. Is this within my area of competence?
3. Can someone else do it better?
4. What do my trusted friends say?
5. Do I have the time?

When you say “yes” to an opportunity, get ready to focus. Make to-do lists. Set your priorities. Avoid clutter. Pursue excellence, but avoid perfectionism. Question everything. Work to prevent procrastination. Control interruptions and distractions. Use the calendar. That means you’ll have to say no to some good things.

How To Say No Gracefully

1. Say no to the proposition, not to the person.
2. Respond in terms that convey the best interests of the person who’s requesting your involvement.
3. Defer creatively; suggest an alternative.

Have you experienced the dark side of leadership success? What did you learn? What would you do differently?

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© 2016, Clarence E. Stowers, Jr. All rights reserved. Originally published at

Clarence Stowers is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Chicago, Illiniois. He has been in full-time ministry for 20 years.