Egg on Leadership’s Face: When Humanity Fails

It’s almost enough to make you laugh, if only to avoid crying.  The frequency with which leaders make some of the most asinine mistakes is mind-numbing.  We read about it on the many news and blog sites we visit everyday.  We react with incredulity, shaking our head and judging the callous insensitivity of it all.  How could they do that?  What could they be thinking?  I can’t believe that happened!

Executives enroute to a government bailout meeting in Washington, D.C., pile into the corporate jet.  Corporate vice presidents mistakenly tweet their disappointment over quarter million dollar bonuses, while workers agonize over impending layoffs.  Company officers revolt over loss of reserved parking spaces for their fleet vehicles.  The horror…..

Give them a break.  Most of us have made gaffes in our personal, professional, or social lives….dare I say, we all have.  The difference?  Our mistakes are not as subject to scrutiny as are those of our organizational leaders.

So, yes, give them a break.  We owe our leaders the benefit of the doubt when they make truly ridiculous (and sadly pathetic) mistakes.  They’re human after all, right?  Their leadership prestige does not lessen their own frailty.  Rather, it simply highlights it to the rest of us.

So, give them a break.  But then hold them accountable for what they have said, done, or decided.  (Uh oh…this isn’t going in the direction you thought, is it?)

That’s right.  Hold them steadfastly accountable.  Why?  Because they ARE in leadership roles, and as such, they represent the values of the organization and the entire leadership corps.  That’s part of the deal.  Even leaders can make mistakes.  That doesn’t make them evil or mean.  But it does mean they need to answer for the underlying beliefs, values, and perspectives from which their gaffe originated.  So, hold them accountable.  Take them to task.  Demand not only an explanation, and where appropriate a recantation, but require them to face the angry mobs.

Why, you might ask?

Because this is precisely where humility defeats ego, where servant leadership trumps tyranny.  Sometimes, leaders need to feel the consequences of their actions, even if those consequences are used to raise awareness of joint sacrifice and collective purpose.

So, when your leaders mess up.  Forgive them.  Let them know it’s not the end of the world.  But leverage the situation to forge deep conversations involving the entire organization about the values, beliefs, and interdependence that will move the organization forward.  In the end, you will have a stronger company as a result.

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