cia torture unquintessential leadershipWith the United States Senate Intelligence Committee’s report released on December 10, 2014 about the methods the CIA used to gather national security information in the post-September-11-2001 era and the subsequent responses, it is profoundly evident that there was and is unquintessential leadership all the way around.

Let’s look at why.

The reality is that the business of humanly-devised governments – any humanly-devised government in any context – is the business of unquintessential leadership.

Humanly-devised governments attract people who crave and chase power and will do anything to get it. For these people, “being in charge” means ruling over, crushing, dictating, and dominating others. These people are expert liars and manipulators.

They also hold the belief that everyone except them is non-thinking, gullible, and ignorant. Therefore, they believe they can do and say anything and get away with it because nobody will even notice.

While there may be quintessential leaders even in humanly-devised governments, they will not not be the public names and the public faces associated with these governments.

Quintessential leaders don’t want the limelight. Quintessential leaders are not power-hungry. Quintessential leaders will not compromise their principles for positions and money. And, generally, quintessential leaders are few and far between in humanly-devised government structures.

While we generally associate team-building with quintessential leadership, there is a team structure in unquintessential leadership as well. However, the type of team and the purpose of the team is diametrically opposite that of quintessential leadership.

At the heart of unquintessential leadership are intricate, deeply-entangled webs of deceit. To successfully support these webs of deceit, a team of three types of people must be in place:

  • Architects
  • Executors
  • Scapegoats

The architects devise the plans. However, no single architect has access to or responsibility for the entire web of deceit. Instead each architect is given a piece of the web to build in isolation (and sometimes ignorance) of all the other pieces.

One reason for this is to ensure that the unquintessential leader has complete control, because whoever has all the information has all the power (quintessential leaders, by contrast, ensure their teams have all the information and each team member knows and understands how their part fits and works with all the other parts).

The other reason is that if the webs of deceit are ever discovered, everyone involved can claim plausible deniability. In other words, nobody is accountable and no one can be blamed.

The executors are the ones who carry out the plans. They are not given anything but orders and they are expected to carry them out as they are designed and without questioning.

This is the mentality that first came to light with the Nazis under Adolph Hitler and his team in Germany during World War II. The standard refrain for executors? “I was just doing what I was told to do.”

The scapegoats are the people who fall on their swords if any part of these webs of deceit comes to light (never are any of these webs of deceit fully untangled in part because of their design and in part because, in the end, most of us don’t really want to know or care about the whole truth). The scapegoats know their roles and they are generously rewarded and taken care of for fulfilling them.

With the components of webs of deceits defined, let’s now look at a few specific examples of how unquintessential leadership permeates humanly-devised governments in the instance of this report on the CIA’s activities after 9/11/01.

dianne feinstein senate intelligence committee unquintessential leadershipDianne Feinstein, who is the chairman of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee, spearheaded this report and pushed for its public release, despite concerns that its contents could result in terrorist activity against United States’ interests abroad and at home.

The fear of what could happen when it became public alone, if you’re a thinking person, should tell you that everyone involved knew enough very specific details about what the CIA was doing in its detention and interrogation program.

And yet there are three main threads of denial: complete ignorance, complete acceptance, and complete immorality. Each of these is a product of unquintessential leadership.

The report suggests that the United States Senate Intelligence Committee had no idea about the specific detention and interrogation methods the CIA employed after the 9/11/01 attacks. Feinstein herself in her statement releasing the report suggests that she and the Committee were shocked by what they found and had the Committee known exactly what the CIA was doing, they would have never authorized it. 

If you believe that, I’ve got beach front property in Omaha, Nebraska I’d like to sell to you.

This is an example of the absolute ignorance response of unquintessential leadership.

Former Vice-President Dick CheneyOn the other side of the equation – the complete acceptance response of unquintessential leadership – is former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Calling the report, which he admittedly hadn’t read in full, “a piece of crap,” Vice-President Cheney fully supported everything the CIA did as being the right thing to do.

Watching his response, I was struck as I am every time I see Vice-President Cheney with the sense that he didn’t believe it was as bad as it should have been and, had he been unfettered and unchallenged, he would have pulled out all the stops and let the CIA do anything and everything the human mind could conjure up to constitute torturing another human being.

This, too, is unquintessential leadership. On steroids.

Former CIA Director Michael HaydenThe third response – complete immorality – is, at least for me, unfathomable unquintessential leadership. When I first heard Former CIA Director Michael Hayden say, “I was in government for ten years after 9/11, and let me tell ya, a phrase I never heard from anybody in any position of authority: ‘Whatever you guys do about this terrorism threat, please, please don’t overreact.’ Never heard it,…,” I was dumbfounded.

This means Hayden knew that what the CIA was doing with regard to detentions and interrogations was overreacting, and, yet, on his watch as head of the agency, he sanctioned and authorized it anyway.

The lack of any moral values and objections in this point of view and way of being is also unquintessential leadership.

These are just a few examples from the big picture of this story. There are many more.

As quintessential leaders, we should always be analyzing stories like this and asking ourselves whether quintessential leadership or unquintessential leadership is involved. We should know which is which and why it is one or the other. That line is drawn, not in sand, but in concrete.

More importantly, we should be carefully and exhaustively studying our own leadership through the lenses of these stories to see if there are any reflections of areas in our lives in which we are being unquintessential leaders.

We may be very surprised at what we find if we’re willing to do the work and be brutally honest with ourselves about ourselves, but without this continual work, we cannot change what is unquintessential to what is quintessential.

How are we doing?





  1. […] is worst. It took me three tries to get through a blog post on Quintessential Leadership on “Unquintessential Leadership All the Way Around: Terror, Torture, and Treachery” because it cuts to the heart of the matter, and this was on my mind already, but also […]


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