Dominique Strauss-Khan, Elliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, and more recently Anthony Weiner. My guess is those four names conjure up a pretty clear idea in your mind of what they have in common. All of them are ‘leaders’ who somehow believed that their actions (both legal and illegal) could be glossed over due to their status and position. All of them were dead wrong.
What makes a person believe that they won’t be caught? Moreover, what makes a person feel that if the do get caught they will be able to skate through unscathed? If you (as I do) believe that first and foremost a leader leads by example, it seems incomprehensible that anyone could do the incredibly short-sighted and stupid things the ‘not-so Fab Four’ have done.
But there’s more to their stories than that. Too add insult to injury all of them had the same knee jerk reaction once their transgressions became public. They denied them and lied about them. This is not exactly the type of behavior that would make your constituents, employees and team members want to line up behind you in staunch support. Any chance they had to save a little self-respect (and pain for their loved ones and families) is inexorably lost once they went down the path of denial, only to double back and admit that in fact they were lying and now they are sorry.
What if Congressman Weiner had admitted from the moment it became public that he took the photos, he sent the tweets, and he was very sorry for his stupid and thoughtless actions. People would have shaken their heads, his wife would still have been thoroughly embarrassed but at least he would have dealt with it up front and perhaps offered himself a chance to mend the wounds as well as rebuild confidence in his professional life. To me, that chance is completely lost now.
Leaders come in many different forms. They share a common bond and that is the expectation that they have the best interests of their teams, constituents, families and friends in mind at all times. It is at times a very heavy responsibility particularly when things are not going well. But that comes with the territory and whether you are a corporate leader, politician, professional athlete, entertainer or a parent (yes parents may be the most important leaders overall), it’s critically important to keep in mind that your actions speak much louder than words and if you think you might be able to get away with something you should strongly think again.
For instance, let’s say that you are a seven-time Tour de France winner and the leader of a foundation that has done and continues to do so much for so many people. Let’s also say that many of the riders that rode with you claim you used performance enhancing drugs. You vehemently deny the accusations citing the fact that you never have failed a drug test. (Marion Jones the U.S. Olympic track and field star claimed the same for years – until recently). Everyone hopes your denials are true.
Are you listening Lance Armstrong?