My neighbour, previously from Mexico, made a piñata for his nephew and niece who were visiting from the United Kingdom for their holidays. A piñata is a container, often made of papier-mâché, pottery, or cloth, that is decorated, filled with candy, and then broken as part of a celebration. According to local records, the Mexican piñata tradition began in the 16th Century in the town of Acolman, just north of Mexico City, where piñatas were introduced for catechism purposes. Apparently, symbolising the Catholic doctrine of the struggle against temptation, the seven points represent the Seven Deadly Sins and the ball, evil. A person is blindfolded, representing the disorientation that temptation brings, and must beat the piñata until it breaks, releasing the tasty treats as reward. Since this time, however, the piñata has all but lost its religious significance and has become popular in many types of celebrations, not just during December’s Las Posadas.

As I watched the children attempting to beat the piñata (of course controlled by my neighbour, ensuring that it was just out of reach), I couldn’t help reflecting how the Seven Deadly Sins cause great temptation for leaders – if acted on, resulting typically in toxic leadership.

  1. Pride – it is identified as dangerously corrupt selfishness, the putting of one’s own desires, urges, wants, and whims before the welfare of other people. In even more destructive cases, it is irrationally believing that one is essentially and necessarily better, superior, or more important than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal image or self. When a manager fails to acknowledge effort and success in employees, respect is lost.
  2. Greed – an artificial, rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to material wealth. Many leaders, who pay themselves disproportionately more then their employees, cause employees to have feelings of not being valued, bitterness, and disgust.
  3. Lust – although frequently referring to unbridled sexual desire, it also talks to the uncontrolled desire for power. Managers that use their position to manipulate others and force less than honourable outcomes breed mistrust amongst employees and customers alike.
  4. Wrath – uncontrolled feelings of anger, rage, and even hatred. Wrath often reveals itself in the wish to seek vengeance. Uncontrolled anger creates uncertainty and confusion in the minds and hearts of staff. Leadership consistency, controlled by emotional intelligence, on the other hand, leads to psychological safety in the workplace.
  5. Gluttony – it is the overindulgence and overconsumption of anything to the point of waste. The word derives from the Latin gluttire, to gulp down or swallow. Having good food, wine, and other things is not necessarily bad, but should always be tempered by outward consideration for the needs of less-fortunate people. Generousness of spirit attracts followership.
  6. Envy – like greed and lust, envy is characterized by an insatiable desire. It can be described as a sad or resentful covetousness towards the traits or possessions of someone else. Bertrand Russell said that envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness, bringing sorrow to committers of envy whilst giving them the urge to inflict pain upon others. Envy often drives internal politics within organisations, creating animosity and lessening collaboration possibilities.
  7. Sloth – described in the dictionary as the absence of interest or habitual disinclination to exertion. A slothful manager is one who fails to act when needed to do so. This negligence leads to distrust and unsolved interpersonal issues.

Leaders should fight against positional temptations. Leadership humility and a spirit of servanthood model value-driven organisation aspirations and engender a culture of psychological safety and trust.

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