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Back in January of this year, I referenced a couple of things in my post Aristotle on Purpose, Character, and Leadership that are top of mind this morning based upon a few discussions that closed the day yesterday.

Part of the post centers on the topic of character or virtue.  I commented that virtue cannot be taken from you … but it can be freely thrown away.  The post also refers to a book titled Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership where several examples of leaders who freely threw away their character can be found.

In the opening chapter, the author makes the point that no matter how brilliant, charming, strategic, or commanding in presence you might be, decisions born of a failed character will have consequences that are “extraordinarily disabling” and will bring down even the strongest among us.

Dictionary.com defines prides as follows, and in 3 of the cases studies from the book you can see where pride came into play and preceded the leader’s fall:

pride (noun)

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, orsuperiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed inbearing, conduct, etc.
  • Regarding Robert Nardelli (Home Depot) – “he seemed far more concerned about his process [and results] than his people … people worked in twofold fear: of failure and of job loss.”
  • Regarding Carly Fiorina (HP) – “failure was always someone else’s fault … her penchant for promoting herself did nothing but culminate into a perception that she was too self focused and disingenuous.”
  • Regarding Steven Heyer (Starwood) – “While Heyer was turning the company brands to gold … he never knew the company [he acted in his own best interests rather than the best interests of the business]”

Like me, your first thought might be ‘this sounds like common sense’.  But prepare yourself for the reality that not everyone will see things as you do. Just yesterday I was privy to comments made during a meeting that revealed the person’s character, and the focus was certainly on results and self-promotion rather than the best interests of the business.

Without getting into too much detail, the jist of the scenario is that certain process gaps were uncovered that not only needed to be addressed going forward, but also retroactively.  Needless to say, this would not be an easy undertaking, and pain would certainly be felt internally.  Existing partners could be lost, and revenue for this year might also be put at risk.

The action that would yield the best return for the collective team would be to do nothing, to take the high road or easy path if you will, and likely hit the revenue targets for the year. The right thing to do would be to acknowledge and address the gap and prepare for a rocky journey that puts the business in a better position long-term, but could have some short-term impacts.

Which would you choose?

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