Being highly successful, intelligent, and powerful seems appealing to most of us, but in reality creates an increased likelihood of failure in personal relationships. CIA director, David H. Petraeus is the most recent example of what I call the Power Failure syndrome: powerful people excelling in their careers, but destroying their relationships through bad choices and poor judgment. He is a well-respected leader who rose through the ranks, but may have been more focused on career advancement than anything else. He recognized the dangers of his relationship decisions, but chose to pursue them anyway. Did he think he wouldn’t get caught or he could make it go away?
Mr. Petraeus, a prominent leader who is credited with turning around the Iraq war and building a stronger and safer country, allowed his personal life choices to jeopardize his extraordinary contributions. It may be difficult to understand this contradiction, but sadly this situation is more common than we want to believe. Think about other powerful people like John Edwards, Bill Clinton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger who have severely damaged, if not destroyed, their relationships by their self-destructive behaviors. The same traits that drive career success can also kill relationships. What many people don’t realize is how seductive power is for all of us.
Why and how does this happen? Many high achieving, powerful, and success driven individuals believe they can skirt the rules or that the rules simply don’t apply to them. They are often self-absorbed and lack emotional maturity. The result: success at work and failure at home.
Success comes from being balanced in life, staying connected to healthy people, and accepting that there is a power greater than you. At all times accept responsibility for your actions, embrace humility, and give back through your time, talent and resources. Leading a life of significance, accountability, faith, and emotional intelligence will create more opportunities for personal growth and maturity. Lastly, consider being a servant leader who initiates conflict resolution, apologizes first, and values people over power.
Our new book, Change Your Life, Not Your Wife: Marriage-Saving Advice for Success-Driven People, offers actionable advice on turning around relationships on the brink of disaster. The good news that power doesn’t have to lead to destruction and people can change.