Two Dangerous Obsessions For Leaders


The fine line between being passionate or obsessive about something has always intrigued me. In a past blog I even defined the words in my own terms. Here are the abbreviated versions:

  • Passionate. You make the task a priority, plan for it before you start, and work on it with an enthusiasm that brings admiration from others.
  • Obsessed. You are so hyper focused on something that you are willing to neglect work on other tasks of similar importance-even when they need your attention. It drives a wedge between you and those around you.

Then last week I read an article entitled Living With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Michael Emlet. While the article focuses on physical and spiritual drivers for OCD, I believe he gives two underlying reasons for OCD that any leader should be sensitive to as they make decisions and work with their team. They are:

The need for certainty.
Emlet writes that someone with OCD is seeking "total assurance and certain knowledge." While leaders should have more information, experience, and insight from which to make a decision, rarely will you have everything you need to make the perfect choice. Another danger if you obsess about certainty of outcome is that you may not be willing to develop other members of your team because you want to do it all yourself.

Questions for reflection:

  • Do I often hesitate on making decisions because I don’t have all the answers?
  • Who am I holding back because I won’t make a decision?
  • What team members should I be growing to take on more responsibility?
Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions.
-Mark Twain

An overactive sense of responsibility.
When engaging in this thought pattern, Emlet writes that it is “...closely tied to perfectionism, the idea that your performance is critical for avoiding negative consequences, for yourself or others.” As a leader or manager, you do have the ultimate responsibility for your team’s success, but that shouldn’t paralyze you from allowing yourself and those on your team to make mistakes along the way. As Mark Twain wrote, “Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions.”

Questions for reflection:

  • Where, in my leadership role, do I need to be okay with “imperfect progress?”
  • Am I hesitating on making a decision because I can’t control all the potential outcomes?

I’d be curious to know what obsessions you see leaders have that limit their ability to be successful. Send me an email or make a comment below.

For more on this topic:
Curious, Committed, Passionate… or Obsessed?
Four Obsessions Of An Extraordinary Executive (Book by Patrick Lencioni)
Choosing To Fail So You Can Succeed