This is not the post I had planned for this blog today. However, it is clear to me that everyone – from the media all the way to Paula Deen – is missing the bigger picture of the core issue at the heart of this story.

As a side note, I shake my head continually at the situational ethics and twisted logic that a lot of people are approaching this story with. The heart of this story is not about a lack of forgiveness, about “casting stones,” about defaming Paula Deen (she did that all by herself by her lack of quintessential leadership without any help from anyone else).

It is, instead, a cautionary tale that all of us, and especially those of us who are quintessential leaders, need to look into the mirror of and see where and if we see our own reflections. If we miss that in all of this, then we’ve missed the whole point. 

The core issue of this situation with Paula Deen is that she lacks the unimpeachable character, the irrefutable integrity, the unwavering values, the non-negotiable adherence to and upholding of the highest of standards personally and professionally, and the evident humility of a quintessential leader. 

Paula Deen Today Show 6-26-13Increasingly, the story has zeroed in on a single aspect of Paula Deen’s deposition in response to a lawsuit filed by a former employee (who, for the record, is not African-American and who had quite a bit of responsibility at several of Paula Deen’s restaurants) raising the specter that Deen is prejudiced against African-Americans.

Paula Deen herself has waffled all over the place about this one part of a much bigger problem, so it’s really unclear exactly where she stands. And that’s consistent with a lack of unimpeachable character. When you don’t have a solid foundation of anything that is absolute in life, the floor constantly shifts on you from moment to moment.

But the charges of racism are only one part of a larger picture of who Paula Deen is and how she has failed as a quintessential leader both personally and professionally throughout her career. If you want the whole picture, you can read the former employee’s lawsuit here and Paula Deen’s deposition here.

Paula Deen fails the quintessential leader test in several areas. The first is setting and adhering to the highest set of standards of conduct (behavior, which includes speech and action) and requiring that everyone on the team adhere to them too. When people on the team fail to adhere to them, the remedial process to change or go is begun and if there’s no change, those people go. No matter who they are.

A telling quote from Paula Deen’s interview on the Today show this morning reveals her lack of understanding of leadership and her lack of ability to lead: “It’s very distressing for me to go into my kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other. … I think for this problem to be worked on, these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other.”

Paula Deen is in the leadership position and it is her job to set the standard of what is acceptable and what isn’t in her kitchens. She, as she has done since the beginning of all this, once again puts the responsibility somewhere else, instead of taking it herself. If she didn’t allow this kind of behavior in her restaurants – which clearly she does – she wouldn’t be hearing it at all there.

This is Paula Deen’s fundamental blind spot. She seems to have absolutely no comprehension of what her role as a leader is. This seems to be another case of someone who’s really good at a skill, but who should have never been in a leadership position because she’s not equipped to do it.

Once a person in a leadership position, as Paula Deen has time and again, allows, tolerates, and accepts compromise and exceptions to what is generally considered appropriate and right behavior, first in themselves and then with others, they have failed as quintessential leaders.

Once compromise and exceptions enter the picture, character is negatively impacted, and this is the second area where Paula Deen fails the quintessential leader test.

Paula Deen doesn’t see anything intrinsically wrong with any of the behavior in either the former employee’s lawsuit or in her own deposition. The casualness with which she accepts unacceptable behavior in speech and in action – and even does it herself – shows defective character.

Character is a big deal. Every choice, every decision, every thought impacts our character. That impact can either be positive or negative.

The more we negatively impact our character, the less we will care about right and wrong and good and bad and the looser our standards of what’s “okay,” “normal,” and “acceptable” will be.

This is unquintessential leadership. Quintessential leaders know character matters and we know that everything we do and our teams do reflect on our character.

We know you can do one hundred things right and one thing wrong, and the one wrong thing, unless we tackle it head on by admitting it, fixing it, and changing it so that it doesn’t happen again, can be what defines us the rest of our lives.

This is what Paula Deen is not doing and why she is not a quintessential leader.

The reality is that Paula Deen has hit a watershed moment in her life. This could be a time of real change for her.

This, believe it or not, is not unfixable. The fixing will be painful and embarrassing and will cost Paula Deen a lot in effort, money, and reputation. But the result would be worth it in the end.

But if you don’t understand that anything’s wrong, which Paula Deen doesn’t seem to, and you cannot accept the responsibility for your failures as a leader, which Paula Deen has never addressed, and your way of dealing with it is to cast a wide net of blame and responsibility on others by playing the victim and indulging in self-pity, then change will not happen. At least not now.

Paula Deen confirmed that this morning with her statement that “I is who I is and I’m not changing.”

Comments
  1. Debra says:

    I have just read this article and I give it kudos, not because Sandra is my sister, but she’s right, in my opinion. I watched the excrutiating interview this morning just to see if she could save the flagship. She failed miserably on all accounts. Not only did she say “I is who I is and I’m not changing” she vilified millions by her proclamation of “there are two I am prejudiced against, a liar and a thief.” Now correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Bubba steal from her business? Why has she not left him high and dry? You can’t say one thing; then completely do another. On all accounts not good leadership traits. Also, I never heard one apology out of her mouth; only there was a “evil” person who is jealous. As the ship sinks, there will be those who either don’t know better (unimaginable to me) and those who condone or don’t think this matters. I hope they all have long lasting air tanks…as I see no hope of this ship being up-righted. Well, done, Sandra, well done! Debra Ross

    Like

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