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 … decisions born of a failed character will have consequences that are “extraordinarily disabling.

I’ve been contemplating this post for a while now, and wasn’t sure how to best approach it until I went back and revisited several posts I had from when I read the Tim Irwin book Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership.

Blindspots, self-awareness, ego/pride, humility, servant leadership, integrity, courage.  These were all topics of discussion from the book with respect to the derailment of such leaders as Robert Nardelli from Home Depot, Carly Fiorina from HP, Durk Jager from P&G, Steven Heyer from Starwood, Frank Raines from Fannie Mae, Dick Fuld from Lehman Brothers.

As part of this discussion, I am going to link back to many posts and revisit these traits as a means to point out the obvious, but something for which I have no clear answers.

When it comes to leadership, a person’s character is of paramount importance.  I cover this in my posts Aristotle on Purpose, Character, and Leadership as well as A Seemingly Easy Choice … Or Is It?.  As part of those posts, I referred back to this point from Tim Irwin book:

In the opening chapter, the author makes the point 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. … you are not put in a leadership position without being smart, tough-minded, resilient under stress, and able to handle the demands and complexity of leading a significant initiative/company. But not being self-aware of your own weaknesses, or taking strength to excess, or even blind spots can derail even the most secure leader.

pride (noun) – a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit,or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed inbearing, conduct, etc.

self-a·ware·ness (noun) – 1. conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires [and I would add in flaws].

In several other posts, I make points about humility and servant leadership. Along the way, these are a couple of quotes pertaining to the topic I found insightful:

It is true that leaders must lead. Leaders must cast the vision, set the direction, inspire, and give orders … but they need to do much more than that. A true shepherd (or servant) leader knows, serves, and sacrifices for the sheep

Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people -Nelson Mandela

humility (noun) – C.S. Lewis once said “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”. Humility is not putting yourself down or denying your strengths, rather it is being honest about your weaknesses.

servant leadership – servant leaders are attentive to the concerns of their followers and empathize with them, including those with little power in a system. Servant leaders make others better by listening, through understanding and empathy, by being aware and especially being self-aware, through persuasion, through conceptualization or vision, by being a good steward, and through commitment to the growth of people and the greater community.

I’ve also covered a fair amount of ground on the topics of integrity and courage. People are looking for open, honest leaders … leaders they can trust because they are consistent in behavior and truthful … leaders who have integrity!  Make no mistake, being a leader with integrity is not an easy ask!  In fact, it is impossible without what Aristotle refers to “the first virtue”. Courage is what makes all of the other virtues (like integrity) possible. Leadership takes courage!

integrity (noun) – 1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. 2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished:

cour·age (noun) – 1. the ability to do something that frightens one. 2. strength in the face of pain or grief.

Pointing out the obvious, but with no clear answers

The list of CEOs/Companies from earlier in this post can be supplemented by many other corporate failures from the last 20 years … all born from short-comings of character. These are just a few more of the high profile ones I’m sure we’ve all heard about.

  • FIFA (2015) – bribery with awarding of World Cup venues, tax evasion, etc
  • Volkswagen (2015) – fraud with diesel emissions testing
  • Bernie Madoff (2008) – securities Fraud
  • Bear Stearns, AIG, Washington Mutual, Lehman Brothers (2008) – sub-prime mortgage fiasco
  • Siemens (2004) – bribery with Greek government for 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece
  • Radioshack (2005) – CEO David Edmondson lied about his resume
  • Arthur Anderson (2002) – shredding documents related to Enron
  • WorldCom (2001) – fraudulent accounting methods
  • Enron (2001) – fraudulently concealed large losses

At face value, all of this seems painfully obvious (at least to me). And yet as I compare the expectations of leadership from a corporate perspective to the perceived expectations of running a country, why would the standards be any different? Shouldn’t we be looking for a President we can trust?  That has integrity? That isn’t always thinking of/protecting themselves? That acts with humility and in the best interests of the broader community?  That doesn’t have an inordinate opinion of themselves?

In the end, what I am looking for/hoping for/praying for is a leader where I don’t have to worry about the opening quote … “decisions born of a failed character will have consequences that are “extraordinarily disabling”.  But right now, I am struggling to see one.