What Scandals Tell Us About Leadership

scandalsCorporate and political life seems to be burdened by behavior the broader public does not appreciate (any more). In Belgium we are faced with a scandal in the city of Brussels. The mayor of Brussels accepted fees as a board member for board meetings that had not taken place. This in itself questionable, but what made it worse is that he took the money from an organization that looks after the homeless in Europe’s capital. The mayor stepped down, but only reluctantly. As if nothing had happened.
The case is interesting because it shows how leaders derail and how easily they derail. The thing is that contextual factors like power and money are so tempting that moral standards come under pressure. Some people think they are entitled to more than others just because they are a leader (i.e. they have been appointed). And that’s the start of a slippery slope towards erosion of values and of character.

Entitlement is the start of a slippery road towards erosion of values and character.

If leadership is based on position, power and even competencies it becomes not sustainable. Why is that? Because these elements are extrinsic and have no eternal value. Even more, to maintain power and position (or to increase it) people might engage in behaviours that do not create a sustainable value.
The only way to make leadership sustainable for organizations, teams and the leaders themselves is to base it on humanity, on character. Note that the Latin word for character is moralitas, so it’s linked to ethics. To me it’s about having empathy, being fair, being kind and having reciprocal relationships. We are all able to do that.
But under pressure these human traits may erode. The VUCA environment might even accelerate this. Kindness might be seen as weak, empathy as inefficient, reciprocity as undesirable and fairness as obstacle. Pressure, unrealistic expectations, leadership myths, power and money, … they all have erosive effects on character and on leadership. The challenge is to stay humble and human.

The challenge is to stay humble and human.

In my book on Sustainable Leadership I describe how this happens, what leaders can do about it and what leaders need to do to create a sustainable context that builds trust, creates meaningfulness, fosters growth and boosts engagement. This can be done based on character, rather than by using power and position.
I could send it to the mayor of Brussels. Or to many other leaders. Derailment and unsustainable leadership behavior is of all times, all cultures and all countries.
So if you want to arm yourself against the erosion of character and make your leadership sustainable, I invite you to read the book. And I’d like to hear what you think about it.
David Ducheyne