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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)
Scholar/Administrator

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw, a professor at Columbia University, is Academic Director of Wharton Executive Education. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The halo-pitchfork cycle

Q: Throughout history and the animal kingdom, leadership has been associated with sexual dominance. While we eschew that association in modern times, the fact of so many sexual scandals among public leaders, the latest being New York Congressman Eric Massa, raises the question: Why do so many leaders fall prey to confusing power with sexual charisma? Do leaders face more personal temptations than the rest of us?

It is amazing to me how we build leaders up, and then enjoy taking them down. We frame them with a superhuman aura and shining halo, then, when they make human mistakes we gather our torches and delight in running them out of town. What is it about us that causes us to participate in this cycle?

We love the thrill of the campaign, but as reality seeps in, we begin to lose hope, and question why we believed. Yes we can? Are you sure?

Do leaders have more opportunities for bad behavior? Yes, just like professional athletes and movie stars. The ambition that drives them to success and accomplishment, if not held in check by a moral compass, may cause them to think that normal rules don't apply. They're superhuman...we said so.

We need to "get real" about leaders. They're fallible and human, just like us. We should treat the most successful ones with skepticism, and should try to keep them in check - keep them on earth rather than hoping that they will be the one to meet our lofty expectations.

The people I would call "leader" have a moral compass and focus their efforts on the collective. They take an active role in developing others, and demonstrate care and concern for followers. They hold themselves to a higher moral standard, and understand the damage to followers, relationships, community and institutions when they consider themselves above the rules.

It's about time that we think consider the impact that we collectively have on leaders. Let's keep their feet on the ground, humble, and in service to others.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  March 11, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
Category:  Failures Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Don't fear reaper. One gulp and it's down and the asphalt is un-Sicilian perfect.

Posted by: tossnokia | March 15, 2010 10:02 PM
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Why not just change the rules so rich powerful guys can have their mistresses and nobody says anything?

Posted by: ZZim | March 12, 2010 3:49 PM
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Sir,
well said, but you said,

"The people I would call "leader" have a moral compass"

do you really believe that people you would call "leader" would show every aspect of their "TRUE SELF" to you or the public? How would you know? It's impossible for us to determine which leader has a moral compass and whether it is authentic at all...

I think we need superhuman auras and shining halos- something to believe in. It's a terrible cycle, but I don't think it can be broken...

Posted by: ShazzaNYC | March 11, 2010 10:51 PM
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I grabbed an old family book for this one.

"My sensations as we approached what I supposed might be "a field of battle" were anything but agreeable. I had been in all the engagements in Mexico that it was possible for one person to be in; but not in command. If some one else had been colonel and I had been lieutenant colonel I do not think I would of felt any trepidation. Before we were prepared to cross the Mississippi River at Quincy my anxiety was relieved; for the besieged regiment came straggling into town. I am inclined to think both sides got frightened and ran away."
U.S. Grant

Two weeks of bridge rebuilding followed. Are you sure? Advise and consent. Check.
Yes we can? Leadership is a bridge and bridges can be damaged. Mate.

Anxiety relieved?

Posted by: tossnokia | March 11, 2010 8:16 PM
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