"Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and governments."   --Benjamin Franklin

Man's shortcomings have been catalogued since the Garden of Eden, and ever after, philosophers and kings have attempted a definitive list of those iniquities.

Pope Gregory in the sixth century reduced the list of wicked human passions to seven, which we generally know as the Seven Deadly Sins, accompanied by various artist renderings illustrating the specific punishments that might accrue to the hapless offender.

Pride is often considered the mother of all sins and the one from which all others emanate, so it's at the top of the list. Monsieur Webster defines pride as a lofty and often arrogant assumption of superiority in some respect. Interestingly, Pope Gregory consolidated the word with its kissing cousin, vainglory … that implies an inordinate and therefore empty or unjustified pride.

It's no surprise, then, that the punishment associated with pride is being broken on the wheel. I'll spare you the dreadful details, but it was a sign of great dishonor reserved during the Middle Ages for only the most grievous crimes. Yet, who among us isn't proud of his or her accomplishments or hasn't stood taller in the presence of our children's achievements? What sports team hasn't used pride as a call to arms, a mantra designed to unite everyone in a common cause?

So, it's not easy to find a bright line between being proud of our accomplishments, a seemingly natural and uplifting feeling, and the pride that philosophers believe leads the pack of human frailties.

Yet, when we read that pride goes before destruction, according to Proverbs, or hear the more common phrase – pride goeth before the fall – we understand its meaning.

Jane Austen wrote that vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.

In business, being proud can be a valuable tool to build camaraderie and teamwork, but pride can be a beguiling temptress that seduces us into a feeling of superiority that blinds us to our shortcomings and how our customers and other constituents may perceive us.

It's natural to be proud of our company, our people and our culture. But, if pride is a lofty assumption of superiority, it can mislead us into being both arrogant and complacent competitors rather than companies that are eager to serve our clients.

Before I wrangled with this column, I hadn't thought much about the difference between the words "proud" and "pride," but yet when I hear them, the difference is easily discernible just as it is to our customers. Humility is usually seen as the opposite of pride, as a modest opinion of our own importance, and is usually a more powerful sentiment from which to consider both our accomplishments as well as what is yet to be done.

Fans of Jim Collin's "Good to Great" will recognize this as a hallmark descriptor of the successful but unheralded leaders he discusses in his landmark book.

Envy follows close behind pride on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. We know it as a covetousness of another person's advantage, success or belongings. It's a desire to have what someone else has earned, and in business, it's a dangerous distraction to look across the aisle at the bounty of others. In my household, it's often associated with "That's not fair," a time-honored observation when someone else has something that we don't.

We probably wouldn't be human if we didn't, at least once, envy Bill Gates' wealth or Julia Roberts' smile or Dickens' literary prowess. But, we also know from our earliest days, followed by periodic and painful reminders of this lesson, that envying the achievements or successes of others does nothing to advance our own cause.

It's valueless to bemoan the achievements of our competitors. To envy them because they have achieved goals that we have missed works against us, leading us to take our eye off the ball, which should be on what we can accomplish and what we need to do to be successful. We must stay focused on our goals and resist looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

Don't be angry about this column, either. Anger's next on the list of Seven Deadly Sins ... and its punishment is gruesome, indeed.


Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors Inc., providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. He works closely with senior executives and their businesses to accelerate their growth and improve personal and professional performance and hosts a CEO Round Table for middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit www.exkalibur.com for additional information.