The power of coming clean
Q: Pope Benedict XVI's efforts to deal with the Church's sex scandal raises this question: Can a leader hold managers to account on an issue where his own past performance is in question?
These days it seems moral leadership is in short supply. In business we find leaders at the top of large companies who seem more interested in lining their own pockets than in building great and enduring organizations. In politics, too often, we witness elected officials who are more emotionally needy than the truly needy people they pretend to serve, and who preach one form of conduct while practicing another. And, sadly, in spiritual and religious matters as well, leaders around the world appear to have lost the capacity to inspire us by their conduct as well as their espoused convictions.
When it comes to leadership "do as I say, not as I do" is hardly a compelling directive.
On the other hand, a leader who has suffered a severe setback, who comes clean about it, and who then uses his or her own experience as a teachable moment for the rest of the organization can become a larger-than-life figure.
In sports, for example, the ranks of coaches and managers are filled with people who have made serious mistakes in their personal lives, have owned up to them, and who can talk to young and impressionable athletes about what they need to avoid--based on their own experience.
In the rapidly growing field of social entrepreneurship, many of the most convincing leaders are men and women whose own lives have been touched by some kind of deep tragedy or self-inflicted wound--and who can relate all the more closely to the plight of others because of their own human failings and human recoveries.
For many leaders, the question is not whether they will suffer some kind of a fall from grace. Ultimately the question is, what happens next? What do they do about it? How do they own it? How do they learn from it? And most important, how do they teach from it?
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