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Doug Guthrie

Doug Guthrie

Doug Guthrie is an expert in the fields of management, economic reform in China, leadership and corporate governance, and dean of the School of Business at George Washington University.

Adopting principles for profit is weak leadership

Q: In defending Craigslist against charges that it facilitates prostitution and casual sex and undermines the news business, founder Craig Newmark relies on an unwavering commitment to free expression, free markets and an open Internet. Is such an unwavering commitment to core principles the essence of leadership, or is leadership more about accommodating core principles to other social needs and values?

In cases like this one, where leaders claim commitment to core values, the essence of leadership boils down to the honesty and candor with which the leader approaches the issue. In other words, it is not about sticking to core principles on the one hand or bending to social needs and values on the other, but instead about honesty and consistency.

In today's economy, we all too often see corporations and leaders using principled arguments when they are convenient and when they are profitable. The question of the essence of leadership, in this case, boils down to how transparent and consistent Craig Newmark has been about the issues of openness of the Internet and freedom of expression. It is not clear how much Newmark has really thought through these issues or articulated a clear set of values and principles to which the organization always holds true. (At least it is not evident from the Craigslist site itself.)

The other notable thing about this case is the extent to which entrepreneurs are prepared for leadership positions. The interesting thing about "leaders" like Newmark is that they have a good idea, they develop it as an entrepreneur, and then the explosive success of the product puts them in the position of suddenly being a "leader."

The skills that give life to an entrepreneurial idea and the skills of leadership are two very different things. Entrepreneurs like Newmark are often ill-prepared to lead organizations in these complex ethical environments. Leadership is about navigating complex economic, political, social, and ethical environments, and it requires that individuals have spent time thinking about the principles that guide the organizations they are running. Adopting principles for convenience or profit is weak leadership at best.

By Doug Guthrie

 |  September 7, 2010; 11:52 AM ET
Category:  CEOs , Corporate leadership , Ethics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Leaders must justify the value of their principles | Next: Craigslist changed policy, not principles

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