Managing My Appetites

Friends,

It’s been a week of thinking about the frailty of human leaders.  I find myself thinking a lot about how sometimes my human appetites undermine what matters most to me.

When leaders are caught in scandal – especially about private behavior – the public seems to vacillate between moral outrage and protestations that what a leader does privately should be his or her own business. A good psychologist could argue that both of those public responses may be triggered by our personal defense mechanisms.  For it’s easier to condemn someone else than to face one’s own foibles.  And a vehement tolerance of others’ privacy may be a way to keep people from invading our space.

Some of our appetites are dark and notorious — addictions to gambling, sex, or substances; or tendencies to be physically abusive of others.  Other appetites are more garden-variety — intensely controlling behavior, workaholism, incessant scapegoating or perfectionism.  Isn’t it true that in one way or another we are all rather wounded characters?  I love the consolation I find reading memoirs, as individuals lower the mask and share their struggles.  Nobody’s got this mystery of being human all figured out.

The great challenge is when our appetites or habits undermine our values.  In my case my wife and children are of supreme importance in my value structure, yet my appetite for achievement, recognition, and new pursuits continually threatens that primary value.  Feeding that appetite to achieve compromises both the quantity and the quality of my presence at home.  I see it as a kind of addiction, both in its compulsive power and its corrosive effect.

So, in 2008 I’ve recommitted to telling the truth to myself; I’m watching that appetite for work and achievement, and trying to honestly recognize the impact it has on my family.  And I’m doing other things that it’s important to do with addiction: talking about it openly, seeking the help of others, and removing myself from the conditions that tend to create the compulsive behavior.

Like many, I feel sad and indignant about the stories of Detroit’s mayor.  But on a personal level, instead of judging him, I’m hoping his experience will make me more aware of my own humanity, as well as the impact that my appetites have on those around me.  When we lead in positions of authority – as parent or boss – our behaviors really do profoundly affect others.  It’s important to try to tell the truth about those behaviors, and to seek help to manage them as best we can.  I hope you will, too, and thus

Lead with your best self!

Dan