When what you do outweighs who you are
Question: Despite suspension over honor code violations and an ongoing investigation into his recruitment, Auburn's Cam Newton last week won the Heisman Trophy--an award meant to honor "pursuit of excellence with integrity." The award raises a dilemma faced by many organizations: In dealing with top performers, how much should leaders overlook corner cutting, rule breaking and other integrity issues?
Leadership is not a value-neutral proposition. It requires those privileged with positions of authority to give serious thought to what they believe and value, and to identify how those beliefs and values will be expressed in words and behavior. The challenging question for leaders is whether these values and beliefs engender trust in the culture of an organization, offer customers need-based products and services, develop others to their fullest potential, improve individual and organizational performance, and provide sufficient profitability for organizational sustainability. If more leaders consciously reflected on this question, they would have less of a dilemma in managing top performers.
A cloud of allegations hovers over this year's Heisman recipient, and a shadow has been cast on his character and on the integrity of those who chose him. In his case, fact and fiction are somewhat muddled; but what is clear is that the circumstances surrounding the selection exposed a disconnect between the espoused value of possessing good character and the actual value of "winning at all costs." A culture with this type of disconnect that severs personhood from performance teaches star performers that rules can always be bent a bit and the chain moved a few inches for them. They learn that even if a few people object to the moral slippage, there will not be any serious consequences for their behavior.
The tragedy of this erosion of integrity is that people are valued because they are winning, not because they are good and decent human beings doing the right things. Cheating in schools and colleges is rising; fudging facts on resumes is assumed; and some form of workplace self-promotion masquerades as self-deception. The norm is to be or to look as if you are a winner. What you do outweighs who you are. Both the doing and the being of humans shapes character; when doing and being are divided within us, or at odds externally, it causes the creation of one-dimensional, self-centered, self-indulgent people. We lose the capacity to be congruent, and lack the tether that helps differentiate between what is right and what is wrong.
Rules need reevaluation and may change from time to time, but the basis of the changes should not be meeting the narcissistic needs of stardom, whether in a company, in sports or in entertainment. This isn't behavior that deserves reinforcement or any reward.
Katherine Tyler Scott
December 16, 2010; 9:26 AM ET
Category: A leader's team , Accomplishing Goals , Corporate leadership , Ethics , Failures , Leadership personalities , Leadership weaknesses , Making mistakes , Organizational Culture , Quarterbacks , Sports Leadership , Wrong-Doing Save & Share:
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