Elite Heroic Leadership - a Recipe for Scandal?

What happens when we define leadership as heroic - as something only for ‘the elite’?

Well, let me ask the question another way: what do David Edmondson Martha Stewart, and Kenneth Lay all have in common (besides once having the title of “CEO” on their business cards)? The answer? They’re all ridden with scandal.

David Edmundson, Martha Stewart and Key Lay

David Edmundson, Martha Stewart and Key Lay

David Edmondson, the former CEO of RadioShack, claimed to have completed two undergraduate degrees (one in Psychology and one in Theology.) In reality, he completed two semesters at college before dropping out. After the errors in his resume were reported in 2006, Edmondson resigned in disgrace.

Martha Stewart, CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, was found guilty of participating in insider-trading and lying to federal investigators and served five years in a minimum security prison.

Ken Lay, former CEO of Enron, grew a small natural-gas corporation into an energy-trading behemoth worth $68 billion. Unfortunately, he did it largely by condoning shady accounting practices. After being investigated by the SEC, Enron’s stock took a nosedive and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (Lay died of a heart attack while awaited sentencing.)

People do bad things for many reasons, of course, but an increasingly prevalent ‘reason’ for misdeeds and poor behavior is, ironically enough, to be seen as a strong and effective leader.

To misquote Joseph de Maistre, “every generation gets the leadership they deserve”. By implicitly defining leadership as heroic, and as something only for an elite group of people to engage in, we’ve warped leadership, and in turn, warped our leaders.

It’s time to redefine leadership, and the first step is in removing the implicit assumption that leadership is something only to be undertaken by an heroic elite. We can all lead - ethically.

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