This month, in U.S. news, two prominent people in leadership positions in the sports world who have shown themselves to be thoroughly unquintessential leaders have emerged. One of the ties between these two people – Lance Armstrong (7-time Tour de France winner) and Manti Te’o (the highly-touted former Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up) – is that of broken trust as a result of blatant dishonesty, spin, angling, the blame game, and outright deception.

As quintessential leaders, it is absolutely imperative that we understand how trust is built and how we become and stay trustworthy, because as is the case with Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o, once trust is destroyed and trustworthiness is gone, it is difficult, if not impossible, to ever get back.

My eBook, “Trust & Trustworthiness” provides a compellingly insightful and comprehensive compilation of the quintessential leadership components of building and keeping trust and becoming and being trustworthy and what they look like in practice.

Although I enjoy sports, professional cycling and college football are two sports I don’t have any interest in nor do I really understand exactly what the mass appeal of them is.

However, I would have had to have lived under a rock for the past twenty years or so not to have a fairly good knowledge about Lance Armstrong and his career. The interesting thing about Armstrong, though, is that years ago, when he really hit his stride and became a household name, I observed a certain disconnectedness and ruthless coldness about him that made me uncomfortable. His eyes, I think, betrayed him. When the then-rumors about his doping began to swirl, I believed they were more than just rumors and were probably credible.

Armstrong vehemently insisted for years that he had never used drugs to enhance his physical performance and continued that steadfast denial even in the face of the irrefutable proof of his usage of banned substances and his distribution of those substances to others in the cycling world in the 1000+-page report from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released in June 2012.

One of the most disturbing things I observed about Lance Armstrong during this period of accusations and denials was his viciousness and his determination to destroy as many lives as possible along the way. His behavior seemed more like that of a sociopath than of a man defending himself against unfounded and baseless claims. He spent a lot of time and energy ridding himself of accusers and, in his mind, enemies, fingering them as being cheaters and liars and claiming to be a victim of vindictiveness spurred by jealousy over his accomplishments.

After seeing portions of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and reading the full transcript, it turns out that Armstrong was the cheater and the liar all along. Watching his body language and his eyes and observing the calculated and emotionless responses to Winfrey’s questions, it’s clear that Armstrong has strong sociopathic tendencies and that is the epitome of unquintessential leadership.

The first thing that I noticed about Lance Armstrong in the actual interview clips was that he still doesn’t believe he did anything wrong – and he never will. There is no contrition. There is no regret. There is no remorse. There is no guilt.

There is nothing behind the very feeble gestures that he’d like us to believe are admissions of dishonesty, wrong-doing, and cheating. No one who knows this man should ever expect a genuine apology from him. Whenever someone starts this statement: “I guess I’ll have to apologize…,” that person is not convicted within him or herself of his or her guilt, culpability, or the need to right a wrong. 

In Lance Armstrong’s mind and heart, he’s innocent of any wrong-doing. One of his claims to defend his doping is that “everyone else was doing it.” That’s the oldest excuse in the world, but only unquintessential leaders use it. All the other wrongs in the world don’t make a quintessential leader’s wrong right. Wrong is wrong and right is right.

People in leadership positions set the example for those they are responsible for leading. So when Lance Armstrong dopes, lies, cheats, and blames and crushes other people, what example is he setting? It’s unquintessential leadership on steroids, pun intended.

The most telling quote for me of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was this one about cheating: “At the time, no. I kept hearing I’m a drug cheat, I’m a cheat, I’m a cheater. I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat and the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

This is the heart, core, soul of Lance Armstrong. He has no integrity and he epitomizes the very worst – the opposite of quintessential leadership – of unquintessential leadership.

Manti Te’o, the former Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy contender, has a shorter, but equally unquintessential leadership track as that of Lance Armstrong. Another appalling aspect to this story is the same kind of unquintessential leadership being shown by Notre Dame’s executive staff, most notably athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, who has countered Deadspin’s revelation of the fraud and dishonesty perpetrated by Te’o by continuing to assert that Te’o was the victim of a hoax.

Te’o’s story of the death of his grandmother and girlfriend within a 12-hour period of each other fueled sympathy and admiration both by the media and the public for the young football player in September of 2012.

However, as Deadspin revealed this week, the story was a lie. Te’o’s grandmother did die in September 2012, but there was no girlfriend and no subsequent death from leukemia. It turns out that this was a publicity move of dishonesty and fraud – probably to up the chances of Te’o winning the Heisman Trophy and being drafted higher in the NFL – that, no matter what the assertions of Te’o and Notre Dame officials are, Te’o was intimately involved in and continually purported to be true.

The fact that Te’o actively participated in the fraud is what highlights his own and Notre Dame’s lack of quintessential leadership. How Notre Dame’s athletic director can keep telling people that Te’o is an innocent victim of a hoax when Te’o’s own words convict him and show him to be thoroughly involved in the web of deceit is beyond comprehension. It seems that once people go down the road of dishonesty, eventually they begin to believe their own lies to the point that truth is never and can never be within their grasps again.

Te’o’s dishonesty, with Notre Dame’s apparent approval and backing, has destroyed any credibility – and that includes trust and trustworthiness – he had. Even if he is drafted by the NFL (personally, I think they’d be crazy to draft him), no one will ever trust him again. He has proven himself to be an unquintessential leader: unreliable, undependable, dishonest, untrustworthy, and selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed.

Te’o, in the end, like Lance Armstrong, and like every other unquintessential leader, is all about himself. They don’t care about the team or the truth. They have no integrity. They lack any authenticity. They are pretenders, wannabe’s, and examples of the opposite of what we as quintessential leaders want to be, should be, and, indeed, must be.

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