Originally posted 13 August 2016. Updated 9 October 2016
We learned in school about Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus, fascinated by the idea of flying, fashioned two pairs of wings for himself and his son, Icarus, out of feathers and wax.
They began to fly, and it was wonderful at first. But then Icarus, ignoring his father’s warnings, flew too close to the sun. The wax in his wings melted and he fell into the sea.
Are we seeing Donald Trump’s Icarus moment?
Fascinated (perhaps obsessed) by fame and adulation, Trump put his name on everything he touched and became a TV celebrity. Then he thought of the ultimate ego trip: running for president.
It was wonderful at first. Probably even better than expected. Trump’s words resonated with a large and vocal segment of the population. He found his rallies filled with people who roared their approval at everything he said.
Trump flew higher. The news media flocked to him. In the candidates’ debates, the spotlight shone on him. He won a succession of primary elections.
He flew higher still. In an upset that nobody predicted, he won the Republican party’s nomination for president. He said whatever outrageous things came into his mind, just so he could hear the crowds roar with approval.
Now his wax is melting. Despite promises to run a more conventional campaign, he continues to make outrageous comments. Confronted about things he’s said, he downplays them or simply denies having said them. A growing number of influential people in his own party say he’s unfit to be president.
A few weeks ago, in a moment of candor, Trump admitted that he might lose the election. If he does, he said, he’ll take a nice, long vacation.
I’ve seen other people who sought leadership as a way to feed their egos. I’ve seen people who started as servant leaders but who let the adulation go to their heads.
Things never end well for leaders like that. They might succeed for a while—doing good work, winning respect and affection, flying ever higher.
But eventually they crash to earth. Their egos never satisfied, they reach too high and they alienate the people who supported them. A lot of times, unfortunately, the crash causes a lot of harm to the company, the organization, or the society they led.
For those of us who would be leaders, the lesson is clear. Even though you might be the most visible person in the organization or on the team, leadership can never be about you. Because it must always be in the service of others, not yourself.