On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

George Reed

George Reed

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, George Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Studies within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.

Transgressions vs. Contributions

Leaders are often described as living "in the fishbowl." Because of the power and responsibility that we grant them and our high expectations, every aspect of their lives is subject to scrutiny and evaluation.

Leadership is one of the most powerful ways to inspire others, and when those we count on display human frailties, we often feel an unfortunate sense of betrayal and cynicism. This is especially true with public officials who proclaim to have one set of values in public and act out another in private. We Americans seem to have a justifiably low tolerance for hypocrisy.

Despite our preference that leaders meet almost puritanical standards of behavior, all human beings are beset with passions, desires, impulses and temptations. If we were to limit leadership positions to those that have not transgressed, we would have to work from a short and inadequate list of candidates. An examination of our most respected historical leaders reveals some extraordinary flaws, especially when it comes to marital fidelity. Regrettable as they were, such infidelities did not erase their extraordinary contributions.

Clearly, criminal transgressions - -or those that demonstrate a pattern of misbehavior -- ought to disqualify one from leadership positions. Character does matter. However, we should consider such transgressions more broadly against the record of contributions and in light of behavior over time.

By George Reed

 |  June 30, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
Category:  Ethics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Forgiveness Is Beside the Point | Next: Forgetting Your Followers


Please report offensive comments below.

Example: Marion Berry. In spite of his "flaws", his constituency adored him and kept voting him back in. If the same is true for South Carolinians towards their Governor, then so be it. If not, then, also, so be it. Clinton was a hypocrit and so is this guy, and both lost my trust, therefore never to get my vote again.

Posted by: schaeffz | July 1, 2009 1:41 PM
Report Offensive Comment

When an elected official in charge of a state goes AWOL and no one knows where he is or how to reach him in case of an emergency, that is grounds for calling for his resignation. This was not for a day or even two days and his security detail spent hours and days looking for him - and who will pay for those man-hours?

What if there had been a natural disaster? No governor. What if there had been major fires in the state? No governor. Riots needing the National Guard troops dispatched? No governor.

Yes, other politicians have had their affairs and their mistresses but they still stayed on duty and conducted business for their state and country. His dereliction of duty should be a wake-up call for all his supporters. He cannot be trusted to tend to business.

Posted by: Utahreb | July 1, 2009 12:32 PM
Report Offensive Comment

We expect duty and responsibility from our leaders. If we did not feel they possessed these, we would not put them in trusted positions in the first place. They may start out honest and uncomplicated, truly motivated to serve and donate their lives to others unselfishly. However, their circumstances change; their temptations become more than they could have ever steeled themselves against. I'm not making excuses for how they handle these temptations but am saying that, until faced with such an extreme life-change, none of us could predict how we would react. Those who go off the deep end into dark pleasures may have, somewhere inside them, a feeling that their fame and success were never deserved in the first place, a need to subvert the positive side they'd built up. Have you ever heard the expression, "It's lonely at the top"? So down they come with their frailty & flaws in a blaze of media unglory.

Posted by: RebaBear | July 1, 2009 10:55 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Give examples of historical leaders, such as Washington, Jefferson, FDR and Ike. They did not ask for your vote by appealing to "family values" or "Christian mores", but what they did or would do for the country. THey ran on their public life, and their private life remained pretty much off limits. It is the hypocrisy of the right that so riles me.

Posted by: gss49 | July 1, 2009 9:24 AM
Report Offensive Comment

The fact that Sanford is a compulsive womanizer really is not the point. The point is that he went AWOL for five days, leaving nobody in charge while he dallied with his mistress. He's an irresponsible twit. Then, of course, there's the misuse of taxpayer money to pursue his affaire, there's the lies he told his staff, his security detail, and the people of his state.

This isn't about sex. It's about dereliction of duty.

Posted by: nicekid | July 1, 2009 5:12 AM
Report Offensive Comment


If you're going to wrap yourself in the flag and Jesus on the campaign stump then you'd better be perfect because we don't like hypocrites like David Vitter, Sanford, Foley, Gingrich, et al.

It is either transactional immorality, or ethical immorality with these fundamentalist folks... but it is ALWAYS HYPOCRISY. How about that Huckabee making jokes about Obama ducking gunfire? There's a man of the cloth for you!

So really it has nothing to do with sex.


Posted by: onestring | June 30, 2009 7:26 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Despite our preference that leaders meet almost puritanical standards of behavior,

--Puritanical ?, you mean dont cheat on yr wife and destroy yr family ? puritanical? have we become so jaded that this is now considered puritanical ? If he likes his wife to dress as a french maid, its not my business, but yr way off base on what puritanical is.

Posted by: snapplecat07 | June 30, 2009 6:10 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company