Cheaters Are Not Leaders

Posted: September 22, 2015 in No Leadership
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Volkswagon Cheaters Are Not Leaders“But everybody cheats!”



It seems to be a hardwired tendency in human nature that fuels the desire to cheat. Behind that desire is the promise of big rewards: winning a game, better grades, more money, big promotions at work, lots of stuff, and being the proverbial king of the hill: CEO, world leader, president or executive director of a non-profit.

And looking around, as those of us striving to be quintessential leaders do, it seems that cheating pays off in big ways. Cheaters seem to thrive because they cheat and because they are so good at it

The majority of people we see in leadership positions are cheaters. Of those, only a minority have been caught cheating. And even within that minority, many have cheated their ways out of being discovered as cheaters.

As a society, it seems we admire cheaters. We glamorize them and laud their schemes as brilliant and worthy of emulation.

Cheating is so accepted in our society that it shows up in our everyday language.

“I’m going to cheat on my diet just a little bit.”

“I admit that I cheated and substituted canned corn for fresh corn.”

Cheating is an integral part of our lives and vocabulary“I cheated and did my son’s math homework because I didn’t have time to explain it to him.”

“We cheated and ducked out of the reunion early to go to a movie.”

You get the picture. It is clear that the desire to cheat is so everpresent in our thinking that it makes its way very liberally in our speech (and clearly we don’t think before we speak because we give no consideration to what our speech says about our character).

“But it’s harmless. It’s just an expression. It doesn’t really mean that I would cheat on anything big or important. Lighten up!”


Notice the third sentence in that defense of using the word “cheat” in everyday conversation. That sentence – It doesn’t really mean that I would cheat on anything big or important. –  gives us insight into how deep the desire to cheat goes.

The speaker has just told us that they will – and do – cheat and they’ve given us the parameters within which they will or won’t cheat.

And since the speaker decides what is big or important (situational ethics), they’ve clearly given themselves the latitude to cheat at anything and everything.

How many times do we see disgruntled people in leadership positions of one organization leave and form a rival organization and then, by hook or crook (another cheating idiom), lure people from the original organization over to their new organization?

It literally happens all the time. Every day. Multiple times a day.

How many times do we – you and I – cheat every day?

With misinformation in the form of omission, slanting, twisting and spinning that puts things in a favorable light for us?

By cutting corners on something we are working on?

By doing our own personal things on someone else’s time and then taking the money for time when we were not actually working?

By embellishment or outright lying to make ourselves look better or to be seen in a more favorable light?

By manipulating other people emotionally to gain favor with them?

Cheating is rampant. As a way of thinking and being it is deeply ingrained in our society, in our species, and in each one of us personally.

But cheaters are not leaders. They are just cheaters. Morally and ethically bankrupt, they lack the ability, the talent, and the integrity to accomplish anything without cheating.

VW TDI Beetles, Jettas, Passats are among the 2009-2015 models with the cheating emission softwareThe emissions-cheating software (the software could detect an emissions test and could fake the right numbers to pass) that the people in leadership positions at Volkswagen approved and had installed on at least 11 million diesel cars (this is likely just the tip of the iceberg) is an example of cheating at the organizational level.

General Motors’ ignition switch debacle is another example of cheating at the organizational level.

It’s always tempting for members of the organizations to think “well, that was them, but it wasn’t/isn’t me” in the rare cases when organizational cheating comes to light (it’s important to understand that these are not isolated incidents for these organizations nor are they the worst examples of cheating they are guilty of).

Temptations are wrong for a reason. They always lead us down the path of darkness, which includes rationalization, blame, and excuses.

“I’m not guilty of cheating; I just worked there” is no different than the familiar military refrain of “I just did what I was told to do.”

To pull off organizational cheating, everyone associated with that organization in any way, shape, or form has to buy into the cheat.

Sometimes the buy in is based on disinformation or misinformation, especially the further you go down into the organization, but each person still has their individual responsibility for buying into the cheat.

It’s at this point that each of must confront ourselves. We all face this ethical dilemma more than we probably consciously realize, and, sadly, many of us shrug and say “That’s just the way things are,” and continue on surrounded by cheating and tacitly endorsing it by doing so.

In confronting ourselves, though, we must first look at our own lives to see where we think about – and sometimes act on – cheating.

We humans have a funny way of seeing our own character defects – like cheating – in a different (and innocuous) light than the character defects of others, whether they are individuals or organizations. In the process, ours become marginalized while everyone else’s becomes egregious.

That is why it so much easier to pass judgment on everyone but ourselves and why we can condemn everyone else and hold ourselves up as paragons of virtue.

It’s a lie we’ve gotten good at telling ourselves. None of us is as virtuous as we believe we are. We all – yes, even those of us striving to be quintessential leaders – have hearts of darkness that fight to govern our thoughts, our words, and our actions continually.

The difference, however, with those of striving to be quintessential leaders is that we are aware of our tendency toward being anything but virtuous. We are aware of our hearts of darkness that can sometimes burn intensely in our inner worlds.

And those of us who long to be quintessential leaders are actively engaged in the war to not only deny our vices and our black hearts, but to change our vices to virtues and the darkness of our hearts to light.

It is the war of our lives and the battles never stop coming. Admittedly, we lose our fair share of those battles along the way, but by staying actively involved in the war for our character and our integrity, eventually we see the results in fewer and fewer losses as we gain control over the territory of our minds and our hearts.

Are you a cheater or are you a leader?

You can only be one or the other.

How are we doing?

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