Leadership Lessons: The Dark Side of Leadership

leadership lessons dark side of leadershipSome people are allergic to being in front. But many men crave it. Some because they want to make a difference and invest in people. Others because they want the fanfare, recognition, and control. The dark side of leadership-it’s easy to see it in others, but what about you and me? When it comes to real life leadership lessons, as men we’ve got to get to the core of who we are to understand what drives our desire to wield influence.

What is Leadership?

Probably the baller of all ballers when it comes to being an authority on leadership, John Maxwell states this central leadership lesson: “Leadership is influence.”

Further, leadership is influence, not control.

What drives you?

When you envision the results of your leadership, do you imagine people being benefited? People growing, changing, and leading better lives? Or do you imagine the opportunity to speak to a large audience and to have a group of followers?

Maybe a selfish leadership dream isn’t even that big. If you work on a construction site or an office you might desire to be the one calling the shots. Is that desire there so you can make things run smoother, faster, serve your clients and your own co-workers better? Or when you get down to it, isn’t it because you like it done your way and you’re tired of being told what to do?

The Dark Side’s Origins:

The Wrong Emotional Fuelleadership lessons dark side of leadership

If your putting the wrong fuel in your tank–diesel instead of regular unleaded–you’re going to start running a little strange. When you fill up on the wrong gas, or don’t have gas at all, you’ll putter out and ruin your car.

We each have physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consumption tanks. How do you fill yours up? Do you at all? Do you fill it up with the right things?

When we haven’t fueled properly, our insides get a little dark. We get tired, irritatable, and can be driven by the wrong motives.

When our tanks are on puttering mode, we sometimes use our influence or leadership position to fill up our insecure tanks. A man can feel down and inadequate, so he wants to get in front of people, or boss people around so he can fill up that tank. You can do that for a little while, but soon, a man with a bad tank will have his true nature revealed.

The Control Factor

When things are out of control at home or in a guy’s financial life, they sometimes reach to control something else. That might be the people that are required to listen to him. Or if things are out of control at work, a man might become extra controlling of people at home. If a guy’s other pursuits aren’t going according to plan, they sometimes lash out at others.

The root of this is wanting to be in control. This is often the root of eating disorders—which a man can have just as much as a women can. When things are spinning, people try to grip something they can control and squeeze it as tight as they can.

If a man has control issues, gaining influence will only provide that man the opportunity to rule over others. Whether it’s ruling over his home, his worksite, or his girlfriend, he may grasp the one thing in closest proximity to feel grounded again.

I feel sad for that man. But if that guy is someone’s victim, it doesn’t reduce him being a culprit. I’ve worked for people before that made me feel like things were spinning out of control. But I couldn’t pass that pressure down to others that worked  with me.

On the surface, here’s something to look at to tell if we have control issues: how quickly do we respond with anger? If you’re quick to anger, something has wound you up inside. And it might be because you can’t control it and make it become what you want it to be.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.


This might sound old-school, but here’s some timeless wisdom:

Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.

-Ancient Proverb

Here’s something deeper to consider to check to see if we’re creeping toward the dark side—when you get angry or frustrated with something not going according to plan, does the next closest thing unnerve you as well?

Finding Worth In the Wrong Spot

When guys haven’t found their worth in the right place, they find worth in the wrong place. Sure, they can take place in the form of hooking up with prostitutes, substance abuse, or even just straight up McDonald’s gluttony.

For those that do wield some power in their hands, they might abuse that power to ascribe worth to themselves. If you’re a manager, a teacher, a speaker, or just large and in charge, do you ever feel the pull to throw your weight around to make yourself feel more valuable?

That comes from a dark spot within us. You know what that darkness is? It’s emptiness—a void. Men struggle with self-image. I think we hear a little bit more about it in the media regarding women. Which makes sense as people rightly are criticizing the fashion industry and entertainment industry for portrayals and standardization of women.

But—and I don’t have any data to back up my conjecture—I believe that MEN struggle with self-image problems more than women do. Why? I see guys who are driven to competition repeatedly try to fill a “worth-void”. Whether it’s sport, finance, work, dating, sex, speaking, writing, or leading, I observe guys misusing their talents and energy just to make themselves feel better.

A woman have her external means to ascribe worth to herself. But a dude may act like a total ass to the people close to him to get them to do what he wants to do—simply so he can feel important and ascribe worth to himself.

Fame and Recognition

In my previous life I worked at a large organization and managed 1/3 of it’s workforce. We produced live events and saw about 150,000 people attend annually. Through my time there I got to know a well-known song-writer. He wasn’t as well known as an artist, but in his music niche he was pretty influential. He was a great guy with a great heart. The man had been doing music for years and already had a good sized following.

He told me that his music label began to require him to start his own Twitter and Facebook for the purpose of gathering a larger following. He was apprehensive about it, but knew that it was important to connect with a larger audience. He encouraged me to do that same—build my own personal “Todd Mayfield” brand through social media and other forms. Build a following, and build influence.

I never did. I never had the energy or enough desire to build my own following and a personal brand. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe I missed a chance at reaching a broader group of people. But I know who I am, and I never have had the energy to maintain and pursue growing a base of people to become more influential branded with my face on it.

So I pose this question to you. If you do have the energy to grow a following for the sake of becoming more influential, what is the end result you imagine? What do you want to do communicate and do with this influence?

For our blogger friends and others that have asked us for advice on starting their own website: what is the end game of your authorship? Financial gain can often be a admirable one. You want to take care of your family for the future. That’s a great goal. But if you have a voice, you have influence. What do you want to do with it? How do you want to impact people for the rest of their lives?

I ask you to consider, as you frame your voice and sharpen your craft, how do you want to shape the rest of this life and the life we have after? I think as men and as leaders, that’s the most important question we can ever reach to answer.

The Chief Leadership Lesson

Leadership IS influence. For good or bad. Adolf Hitler was a pretty skilled leader, but he wasn’t a good one. Will you merely be a talented leader, or an influencer who aims to shape people for the better?


  1. Great post Todd! Control is an issue that I can tend to struggle with myself. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with an understanding wife that balances me out, but more importantly help me grow in that area. I think for many of us giving up control can be seen as not manly, when I think it’s the exact opposite. Our knowledge is finite and can only go so far. Giving up that control can allow you to learn so much more as well as become more well rounded, which is a great asset to becoming a better leader.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      John that’s very well stated. I do think a lot of people view as willingly (or unwillingly) letting go of your “control” as unmanly. But it’s obvious it takes a brave and secure man is able to loosen his grip, not tighten it, to feel strong.

  2. Hey Todd, just found the site from Modest Money…love the theme!

    My site is having the mindset of being an entrepreneur and to have control of that which you do great in, and have the will to give control of other tasks to those who are better (a pride check), I wrote an article just for subscribers on it, but I’d be happy to send it over to you, just let me know.

    I want to be influential and have a large following so i can help more, when i can do that for a leaving, I’ll be happy.

    To be a great leader, you have to be selfish with your brand at times as you have to protect it, but yes, a power hungry Nero can only be on top for so long before crashing down from being a “bad” leader.

    Love what you’re doing here!

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Joe! Great to meet you! Glad you found us from Jeremy at Modest Monday–he’s a great guy and has given us excellent insight.

      Please send me the article you refer to-it’d be great to have a look at it: todd at fearless men dot com.

      I do think people have to be protective and alert with their brand. If you let other people wrestle it away from you, you might let it’s identity disappear!

      Thanks for the encouragement man, I’ll continue to peruse your site!!


  3. Leadership certainly isn’t something that comes naturally to me. In large part because I tend not to respect them. If a leader says do X but I think Y will be better, I am probably going to do Y.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Interesting–are you not drawn to leadership b/c you don’t want to lead people that respond like you do?? hahaha

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