My Message to Scott Thompson, Leaders and Future Leaders

CEO of a Fortune 500 company one day—fired the next day. The recent news of Scott Thompson, former CEO of Yahoo, losing his job because of a resume scandal is noteworthy not because of the blatant lies he made—yes, he lied about his degree and then said it was an “inadvertent” mistake; it is only noteworthy and compelling from my standpoint because it proves again that an individual’s character (or lack thereof) will determine their ultimate destiny. If I were talking with Mr. Thompson I know he would have never predicted this fate.

He embarrassed himself, his family, and all of Yahoo from the Board members to the janitors. I am often asked by major corporations to come in speak about how to identify future leaders and what to look for. How do we know who has high-potential is the question I am asked. My answer is always very clear: you need to look for character.

As I work with executives and high potentials, my primary focus is in identifying those unique strengths that each leader has that must continue to be nurtured, strengthened and leveraged in order for them to become the best leaders they can be while at the same time helping their organization achieve its’ goals. I am also passionately focused on identifying in partnership with each coachee those unique development needs that need to be addressed. The most effective way to change a leader’s view of themselves and what they are capable of becoming is by changing their reference reservoir. This means that they must learn to succeed. The more success they can create—the more chances they will have to interpret their success as permanent, pervasive, and personal.

The key lies in getting leaders to create more positively charged references where they have no choice but to interpret both the causes and consequences of those references in permanent, pervasive and personal terms. Your goal as a coach is to get your coachee to a point where they interpret whatever setbacks they experience in less permanent, pervasive and personal terms. Your ability to help your coachee create a “more vs. less” dichotomy is based on getting your coachee to take reasonable risks—to take positive, constructive action, accept the consequences of their behavior, course correct, course correct again, and never give up in their pursuit of positive constructive change.

Achieving this is certainly easier said than done. However, a great place to start is with a positive, self-affirming value system. The self-concept consists of many elements including what we just discussed—the reference reservoir and belief system. But it also includes a leader’s value system, in which we always see their elements of characterplayed out.

As a coach, if I can isolate a leader’s value system, I will have also isolated their character—they are intertwined and cannot be separated. Great leaders—truly great leaders possess character. In his book, Character Matters, Mark Rutland says, “The word, “character” is from a Latin root that means “engraved”. A life, like a block of granite carved upon with care or hacked at with reckless disregard, will at the end, be either a masterpiece or marred rubble. Character, the composite of values and virtues etched in that living stone, will define its true worth. No cosmetic enhancement, no decorative drapery can make useless stone into enduring art. Only character can do that.” Only character determines ultimate destiny.

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