Leaders are an endangered species. They are barraged round the clock by all sorts of demands that have the capacity to compromise their principles and undermine their leadership. If he is a political leader, his kith, kin and clan will prod him to tilt governance and projects in their favour. If he is in the corporate world, his colleagues, collaborators and comrades expect him to tinker with the process for them to have undue edge. If the leader is a man, ladies swoop on him to take advantage of his position. If a lady, the men swivel round her to profit from her office. Nearly everyone who is close to a leader attempts to manipulate him to advance their cause.
Aside the external pressure to veer off the right course, the leader also has to struggle to rein in his own lust. Having access to power or wealth gives vent to the quest for more. The more power or wealth a leader has the more of the same he wants. This longing for more predisposes him to unethical issues that may dent his leadership.
Affluence and influence are attracted by distractive trophies which masquerade as trappings. A leader that succumbs to the lure of these distractions may end up being destroyed because doing so is synonymous with yielding to the pull of gravitational force and the result is often catastrophic.
Leadership and gravitational pull
Gravitational pull ensures that nothing stays up permanently because the law of gravity says whatever goes up must eventually come down. Gravitational pull does affect leadership as well. It is not every leader that is able to maintain the same standard with which they started. More often than not, leaders dump the attributes and attitudes that made them acceptable at the outset of their leadership, thus forcing them to head south.
Power and position are indubitably intoxicative. Leaders often get to a point that they have a bloated opinion of themselves. They see themselves in the light of the successes recorded or the power associated with the office they occupy. At this point they become conceited and begin to pay more attention to feathering their own nests rather than performing the function for which they occupy the exalted position. When a leader gets to this point, gravitational pull overcomes his force of restraint and compromises become commonplace. He gets complacent and interprets corporate goal as his personal comfort. The organization is no longer important; he is the new Lord whose ego must be massaged endlessly.
The three evils
Leaders are usually assailed and felled by one of three evils unless they are able to exercise a very high level of restraint. The evils are arrogance, lucre and coitus.
Arrogance gives leaders a sense of infallibility. It pushes them to do all sorts of things and engage in all kinds of manipulation to maintain a certain public perception and, by extension, their position. Because they have been overtaken by arrogance, operating below a particular level is considered abominable. They, therefore, engage in a series of unimaginable machinations to hold on to their position.
The fall of Toshiba’s Tanaka
On Tuesday, July 21, 2015, erstwhile CEO of Toshiba Corporation, Hisao Tanaka, was forced to resign his appointment, having been indicted in the overstatement of Toshiba’s profits by over $1.2billion over a period of seven years.
To look good to shareholders so as to be considered worthy of continuing in office, Tanaka and others devised a means of doctoring the accounts of the company. For seven years, they pumped up the figures and sold a dummy to the shareholders. Consequently, they were lauded by many as outstanding corporate leaders and held on tightly to the reins of the company until the lid of their misdeed was blown open by an independent panel hired by the company to investigate the matter.
Tanaka’s failure to rein in his pride and resist gravitational pull brought him down from his exalted position and rubbished his sterling achievements.
Lucre and coitus
Lucre and coitus are two of a kind. While arrogance gives leaders a sense of infallibility, many of them see money and women (men) as their entitlements. Some leaders see the two as the trophies won for attaining their exalted heights. Hence, otherwise successful leaders have been found guilty of raping women or helping themselves to their organisation’s resources because of their warped sense of entitlement. They got into the rut because they believed they could have whatsoever they wanted.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn excelled both in academics, where he rose to become a respected Economics Professor; and in politics, where he served his country both as a member of parliament and a minister. In July 2007, Strauss-Khan emerged the consensus European nominee for the post of Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He was eventually selected in September by the 24 Executive Directors of the IMF to replace Rodrigo Rato, whose tenure was about to expire.
As early as 2008, there were allegations that the IMF Managing Director had an affair with a married subordinate, Piroska Nagy, who alleged that she was coerced into the relationship. This forced the IMF board to appoint an investigator to look into the matter. The IMF board later cleared Strauss-Kahn of abuse of power but noted that the affair was “regrettable and reflected a serious error of judgment on the part of the managing director.” Strauss-Kahn issued a public apology for the affair.
But the Managing Director was not done yet. In 2011, when he had become a leading candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, Strauss-Kahn was arrested by the police when he was about to board a plane following the allegation by a New York hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, that the IMF boss had assaulted her in a bid to rape her. He was subsequently charged to court. Four days after his arrest, he voluntarily resigned his post at the IMF. Although the charges leveled against him were eventually dismissed, Strauss-Kahn admitted that the relationship between him and the maid was ‘inappropriate’.
Why would the head of the most powerful financial institution in the world and a potential French president descend to having an ‘inappropriate’ relationship with a maid? A sense of entitlement!
For the ‘inappropriate’ relationship with the maid, Strauss-Khan lost the headship of IMF and the chance to become his country’s president. What a price to pay for a moment of indiscretion.
For a leader the struggle not to yield to the pull of gravitational force is a continuous one. The only power that can fortify him against the pull of gravitation is his values.
Values are of great importance to every leader. They determine his worldview, shape his behaviour and guide his actions. Values set boundaries for the leaders; they are the walls that hedge him against the onslaught of forces determined to steer him off course. They help him tame the monster of his lust and ward off the pressure of others’ greed. They also help him to differentiate between the urgent and the important so as to make decisions that would not be regretted afterwards.
Values represent what the leader values, his beliefs, what he holds dear and what he stands for. It is his values that make his life valuable and his leadership appreciable. Without values, a leader mutates his morals, mortgages his ethics and mortifies his conscience. He becomes controlled by his instincts and justifies the unthinkable. He begins to condone what he heretofore condemned. Values shield the leader from being held hostage by animalistic lust and primitive considerations.
How leaders avoid immoral conducts
Leaders cannot wish away pressure to do what is wrong but they can always stave off the pressure. Here is how:
Define the true north
Bill George, in the book, True North, says true north “is the internal compass that guides you successfully through life. It is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track…It’s based on what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations and the sources of satisfaction in your life.”
Finding and defining one’s true north is critical because without it the leader will be at the mercy of situations and circumstances; he will change his positions at the drop of a hat and live only for the moment.
Without clearly defining the true north, a leader will live in the gray; between right and wrong. According to an ethics poster by Boeing, “between right and wrong is a troublesome gray area.” While those with clearly defined true north live in the white and avoid the black, those who fail to define their true north will abide in the gray where anything goes.
What can help a leader find his true north is to ask three questions, “Why do I want to lead?”, “What difference do I want to make through my leadership?” and “What do I have to do to make the difference that I seek?” If the essence of seeking leadership position is not for personal aggrandizement, then the true north will begin to emerge. With that the leader spells out what he stands for and what he must do not to go below the standard he has set for himself.
Defining and identifying the true north will not automatically put the leader above board. What will help him to do what is right all the time is by constantly going back to the identified true north so that he can stay true to it.
Any leader that will go far must decide on his true north early in his career and spend the rest of his days ensuring compliance with it.
Work on your vulnerabilities
Leaders are human, so they have their own weaknesses, which may open them to exploitation by others. A leader must know himself and his areas of weakness. It is only when the leader is conscious of his foibles that he can guard against his exploitation by those around him. For a leader to excel in his role of leading others he must do a good job of leading himself and this includes recognizing his own weaknesses. Once these are identified, he must take steps to fortify himself in those areas by getting people to watch his back in his areas of weakness. Great leaders don’t try to cover up their weaknesses; they talk about them and look for those with strength in those areas to make up for their shortcomings.
By connecting with others who watch his back in his areas of weakness, the leader is shielded from those whose aim is to make capital out of his vulnerabilities.
Cross the bridge before you get to it
What is generally obtainable is to cross the bridge when one comes to it but that is what boxes a leader into a corner because he has to take a crucial decision in a fleeting moment. A leader who has to take such decision may be prone to making mistakes because he will be deciding on what he has not subjected to adequate thinking. That is why it is better to cross the bridge before getting to it. A leader must be reflective, not reflexive. He must therefore have taken stands on certain issues before they arise so that he is not forced into any awkward position before he knows it.
Hold yourself accountable to what you hold others accountable to
A leader should subject himself to the same set of rules he subjects others to. Compromise begins when a leader permits himself to do what he prohibits others from doing. By having the same set of rules for everybody, the leader consciously guards against running afoul of the general rule because he knows that he should be a model to others. But if his conducts are not regulated by what others are subjected to, he will most likely have breached his own rules before it dawns on him.
Work with the end in mind
Leadership will end at one point or the other and this will be succeeded by memory. Every leader should work from the end to the moment. Every leader should envision the kind of end he wants to have, travel there and walk back to the present moment and see what he has to do to get the kind of end he envisions. He should ask himself “How do I want to be remembered?” “What kind of legacy do I want to bequeath?” “Do I want to be remembered as a leader who dropped the ball or one who upheld the standards?” “Do I want to be remembered as a leader of sterling qualities or one of questionable character?”
Honest answers to these questions will guide the leader into doing what is right and make him to steer clear of those activities that could dent his leadership.
When leaders rein in their lust, they win the war against gravitational pull.