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The Dark Side of Leadership: A Tale of Fallen Heroes
A strong character is the foundation upon which effective leaders can build their inner and outer cores, and develop their leadership traits. Leadership immaturity also leads to derailment, but it is easier to address. Character flaws represent a fundamental problem for leadership coaching and long-term leadership success.
“Solid character will reflect itself in consistent behavior, while poor character will seek to hide behind deceptive words and actions.” – Myles Munroe.
They say lack of character always reveals itself. And that statement is truer than ever in the context of leadership. Effective leaders build a set of consistent behaviors upon a solid inner core. With that inner core missing, immature leaders lack a foundation upon which to predicate their leadership.
Ethical leadership empowers people and inspires them. Effective leaders motivate followers, solve problems, make consistently good decisions, and build teams while encouraging innovation and adaptability. People can rely on solid leaders for guidance, direction, and effective crisis management.
Not all leaders recognize the role of an ethical approach in leadership. Some mistakenly believe they can take shortcuts and circumvent the genuine dedication and caring leadership requires. They cannot palate the servant part in servant leadership. These are leaders who find themselves on the dark side of leadership.
Character flaws are constants. They aren’t mere temporary nuisances in the path of effective leadership. And they inevitably undermine leadership if left to their devices.
Character flaws are incompatible with effective leadership.
As an experienced leadership coaching professional, I have seen many leaders fall from grace due to character flaws. And when character flaws are involved, experience shows that those disgraced never recover.
The Fall from Grace
Character is a sensitive issue for most people. We may be willing to forgive mistakes, but we see character lapses as deep-rooted issues that can utterly compromise the trustworthiness of a person. And since trust is essential for leadership, destroying it through immature exercises in mediocrity is often fatal.
Character flaws can stem from leadership immaturity, ignorance, or a lack of self-awareness. As such, they are corrigible problems, and leadership coaching has the tools to address them before it’s too late.
Effective leaders can’t afford to make unethical decisions. Yet many do, hoping to achieve one personal benefit or another. Instead of taking them where they want to go, however, unethical decisions send them plummeting into disgrace.
Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson figured he’d take a shortcut by lying about a degree he supposedly earned from Stonehill College in the 1980s. For a while, his ruse worked as planned. He became CEO of one of the world’s top tech companies and earned a million-dollar salary in addition to generous stock options.
Then, suddenly, his career was over. When the public and his board learned about his machinations, they compelled him to resign in shame. No high-profile leader can recover from an exit like his.
Another leader who couldn’t resist the lure of the shortcut was Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski. The executive siphoned around $80 million out of company accounts, helping himself to the funds of the organization. A subsequent investigation found him guilty, and he went to jail.
There is probably not a single organization on the planet that would hire a leader whose integrity has been thusly compromised.
Leaders’ inner cores shape their leadership traits. And once it becomes clear their inner cores are rotten, people instinctively regard the disgraced as unfit for leadership.
The Consequences of Unethical Decisions
The consequences of unethical leadership decisions are long-term and far-reaching. Leaders who make such decisions lose trust and stain the reputation of their organizations regardless of their other leadership skills.
Organizations build their reputations over years and decades. Once an immature leader’s poor decision destroys the central piece of the image the organization projects, the consequences touch every manager, employee, and stakeholder.
Not only do outside partners lose trust in the organization, employees do as well. They disengage, lose psychological ownership of the organizational goals, and may even leave.
Broken trust is extremely difficult to mend.
Unethical decision-making erodes the culture of the organization from within. Effective leaders lead by example. They establish and support organizational cultures by practicing the behaviors they like to see from others. If they provide a negative example to their followers through immaturity and shifty decisions, they send a dangerous message to everyone.
In addition to straining the organizations’ relationships with its partners, unethical moves and decisions invite regulatory scrutiny. Stricter regulations and compliance requirements lead to added costs and reduced profitability.
When stakeholders lose trust in the organization and incur financial losses due to exposure to its trust-defeating antics, they can hurt the company financially. Companies bearing the stigma of a lack of ethics find it difficult to raise capital and attract investors.
The Importance of Character in Leadership
Executive coaching professionals know that most leadership failings stem from immaturity rather than fundamental character flaws. From the perspective of a coach, immaturity is treatable. Lack of character is a different matter.
Coaching can shape leaders’ inner cores to a degree. But character flaws are so deeply embedded they often prevail in the face of coaching. Leaders can be immature in their thoughts, feelings, habits, and beliefs. Coaches try to intervene at the level of the inner core to optimize these leadership traits and help leaders achieve maturity.
Executive coaching can identify strong characters in leaders. Coaches find it much more difficult to address deep-rooted character flaws.
From a business coaching perspective, organizations that do not intentionally and compulsively develop their high-potential employees through coaching and leadership development will develop leaders with a higher probability of derailment due to character problems.
Organizations that value business coaching can apply targeted coaching to their high-potential leadership hopefuls, strengthening their inner and outer cores as part of the process of growing them into leaders.
A strong character is a mark of leadership greatness.
Long-term success is unforgiving requirements-wise. And one can’t bargain with it. The path to effective leadership leads only through ethical decisions stemming from a strong character that observes worthy values.
Ethical leadership begets trust and credibility. It earns employee engagement. It boosts morale, mitigates risks, and encourages stakeholder confidence. It is one of the essential ingredients of long-term leadership success.