My concern with the hype surrounding entrepreneurship and leadership, not to mention the extreme dilution of those auspicious terms, is a topic I’ve touched on many times but never really articulated the way I’m seeing it this morning. Let’s see if I can do it justice.

Here’s the thing. I have known and worked with maybe a handful of truly great founders, executives, and VCs. Theirs is a rare breed indeed. Beyond the extraordinary qualities you would expect to see – intellect, guts, integrity, passion, thirst for knowledge – what really stood out about them was their humility.

So you’ll forgive me for sometimes overreacting to the hordes of self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing posers I come across daily. The vast majority of these self-proclaimed gurus, influencers, entrepreneurs, CEOs of one-person companies, millennial millionaires, award-winning keynote speakers, and #1 best-selling authors are nothing but frauds.

And, I apologize in advance for the creepy analogy, but the content-generating online world seems to breed these self-promoting, “fake it ‘til you make it” Tony Robbins wannabes like cockroaches.

Meanwhile, an unexpected email today reminded me of the tech industry legends I’ve worked with in the past – some of whom I profile in Real Leaders Don’t Follow – and how they conducted themselves in the boardroom and beyond. That reminder presents a startlingly stark contrast with today’s nauseatingly narcissistic “me” culture.

On the other hand, I haven’t always been on the right side of that equation. I had my brash and egocentric moments back in the day. What can I say, I was once very young, very foolish, and very full of myself. And there was one very important matter that I couldn’t have been more wrong about.

I used to think that the ends justified the means without ever stopping to consider whose “ends” and what “means” we were justifying. And I never stopped to consider the effect those narrow objectives by those at the top might have on those they acted upon, typically quite a bit further down the corporate ladder.

Having seen the effect of that kind of flawed reasoning up close and personal – at the executive, corporate, and national levels – not only is it not how great business and political leaders behave, it’s the one thing capable of bringing an individual, an organization, or a civilization to its knees.

Whether the ends are to get elected for another term, rope in another client, book another speaking engagement, sell more products, or grow the bottom line, if the means involve being deceitful, disingenuous, degrading, greedy, or putting your hands in other people’s pockets, they’re never justified.

And yet, let’s not foolishly deny that that sort of behavior is fast becoming prevalent, if not the norm, in our culture. More and more, our ends are selfish, our means unethical, and our justifications rationalized.

Hat tip to reader Danny Severns for that “unexpected email.”

Image from Jerry Maguire