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

Lisa Larson

Lisa Larson

Lisa Larson is the Founder and President of Larson & Partners, LLC. When she is not helping companies optimize the business results delivered from their IT projects, she can be found watching football.

The female advantage

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?

The simple answer is the same as why dogs lick their, um, privates -- because they CAN! As Baron Acton said, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Inappropriate sexual conduct is a form of corruption as surely as inappropriate financial transactions. I would propose there are two main reasons why men in leadership positions display sexual hubris.

The first is what I call "Revenge of the Nerds." This is when someone who could achieve great things academically but suffered through romantic rejection during their youth suddenly find themselves in a position to be able to get what they want. It's analogous to the lottery winners who spend a lot of their new money on tacky and ostentatious things -- neither money nor power equal class.

The second is what I call the Sally Field syndrome -- "they like me, they really like me." We are all insecure human beings who want the approval of others. Power is sexy and people in positions of power often find themselves recognized in public, being praised and flattered as never before. It's hard for that not to go to your head. The people who have known you since before you were fabulous probably don't gush and fawn and make you feel so darn GOOD about yourself all the time.

The question to me is: Why we don't see women in positions of power -- the precious few that there are -- exhibit sexual hubris? One could argue that they are too smart to get caught. I believe it is more likely that women have had to fight so hard and overcome so many obstacles to achieve positions of power that they do not take them lightly or for granted. In the absence of an "old girls' club" with a history of looking the other way at bad behavior, women are more likely to act based on their moral compasses and their life experiences.

By Lisa Larson

 |  March 11, 2010; 12:31 PM ET
Category:  Failures Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: No private zone | Next: The halo-pitchfork cycle


Please report offensive comments below.

"The question to me is: Why we don't see women in positions of power -- the precious few that there are -- exhibit sexual hubris?"

Because the opportunity to "exhibit sexual hubris" simply isn't available to them. Power enhances a man's sexiness, it has zero impact on a woman's sexiness.

I think that's pretty obvious.

Posted by: ZZim | March 12, 2010 5:14 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Hillary Clinton was pregnant with our love child, but decided to have an abortion for her career. How can I prove this was true?

Posted by: Martial | March 11, 2010 10:53 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I love the Revenge of the Nerds comparison. VERY TRUE...seriously, look at Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods...they were probably dorks way back when also..

on another note, I am not sure that women are more apt to base their moral compass on their life experiences...I think, given time and opportunity, women might end up doing the same thing...

Posted by: ShazzaNYC | March 11, 2010 10:43 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company