Posts Tagged ‘moral integrity’

Today’s post will take a brief look what quintessential leadership and unquintessential leadership look like in terms of character. Increasingly, it seems that both people in leadership positions and the people they lead believe that character is irrelevant to a person’s ability to lead.

However, that is not true.

quintessential leadership character mattersThe type of character a person possesses is the critical component to whether someone is a quintessential leader or an unquintessential leader, because character defines who and what we are as people. Character is something that we are at all times. It is an essential component in determining whether we are building trust and are trustworthy or we are destroying trust and are untrustworthy.

Anthony Weiner and Bob Filner are two people in leadership positions who’ve been in the spotlight recently because of character issues. However, both have proven themselves, not only in what they’ve done, but how they’ve handled what they’ve done, to be unquintessential leaders.

What does a lack of character and unquintessential leadership look like? 

  • Belief that character and the ability to lead are not connected
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Patent inability to admit being wrong
  • Refusal to take responsibility, blaming others
  • Refusal to apologize
  • Refusal to make amends
  • Refusal to change
  • Lack of care or concern about effects of behavior

What does character and quintessential leadership, then, look like?

  • Understanding that character and the ability to lead are intrinsically connected
  • Remorse when wrong
  • Admit when wrong
  • Take responsibility and blame self
  • Apologize
  • Make amends
  • Willingness to change
  • Great care and concern about effects of behavior

We all struggle with character as humans, but as quintessential leaders, we must win that struggle. And that means who we are on the inside must match who we say we are and project ourselves to be on the outside.

Because we live with our internal selves 24/7, each of us has the responsibility to continually:

  • Assess ourselves
  • Admit where we fall short of the character standard
  • Apologize for and fix in our lives, if we are able, whatever’s been broken because of our shortfalls
  • Remove the shortfall
  • Change

Character matters. It always has. It does. It always will.

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.”

One of the true voids in every strata of life now, from personal to corporate to national to global, is that of authenticity from the inside out. We live in a society that has been jaded and marred by the realizations and revelations that the people they’ve admired, looked up to, followed, and thought they knew were frauds.

That has destroyed trust and undermined respect for any kind of authority – not abusive, misused and self-seeking tyranny, which is often the only manifestation we currently see in almost every governing structure, from personal to corporate to national to global – necessary to ensure order and progress. And that has led to the deepening chaos and retrograde that we see unfolding today.

I read an excerpt from “Sweetness,” Jeff Pearlman’s new book about Walter Payton, the Chicago Bears’ legendary running back from the mid-1970’s to the late 1980’s, in Sports Illustrated yesterday. And although the excerpt is being criticized for its portrayal of an inner man who was quite different from the outer man, it underscored this point about how important that our inside (who we are) matches our outside (what we do and say), because if those are not in sync, eventually the cracks will appear and we will be unmasked as frauds, pretenders, and wannebes. And no matter how much good we may have effected as a result of our superficial external coating, it will all be scrutinized, dismantled, dismissed, and abandoned, with nothing but the ugly truth of who we really were left as our legacies. 

Authenticity starts early in life. Its foundation is a moral integrity that is absolute – right or wrong, no matter what – instead of relative – right or wrong depends on the situation – and that we do not allow to be compromised nor compromise with. This is the foundation our parents have an important part in laying and we have an important part in building. We choose early on whether to build it or try to get around it by compromising it.

I don’t claim to know all the factors that go into which way we choose. I know that personality and temperament play a part. I know that experience plays a part. I know that what’s most important to us plays a part. But early on, we choose to try to stand on our principles – and suffer the consequences each time we don’t, and the negativity of that makes it less and less appealing – or compromise them.

Compromise is where the inner and outer person begin to part ways and become two separate entities instead of a single whole. The road to living a compromised life starts with seemingly little – although, in fact, they are never little – things. Cheating at a game or on a test. Lying to parents or teachers or ourselves. Stealing something from someone else.

Although getting caught or not getting caught by someone else can certainly encourage us or deter us from pursuing the road to a compromised life – it seemed to me as a kid that I seldom got away with anything without getting caught, and for that I’m now thankful – it seems to me that the strongest determinant is one of conscience. Conscience is what tells us that even if we didn’t get caught it was in conflict with our moral integrity and that dissonance was intolerable so we told on ourselves, made the situation right, and determined not to do that again, and if we did, we repeated the steps of getting rid of the internal conflict by admission, correction, and determination.

If our inner person (conscience) is not authentic, then these wrong acts, because no one else caught them, will not bother us and demand that we admit them and correct them. Instead, exactly because no one else caught them and there were seemingly no consequences – except to our character, which often goes undetected for many years because we become extremely adept at hiding the defects  – they embolden us to make these compromises habitual until they become who we are on the inside. We become liars.

And because we live in a society that mirrors this same behavior, giving lip service to a watered-down and surface version of law and order, but being utterly corrupt and okay with that corruption underneath, we become liars among liars, until there is virtually no truth, no authenticity, no honesty in any of our systems and the people who lead those systems.

I could write a book alone on the number of people I’ve worked with who were in leadership positions who lacked authenticity. I can hold up one finger on one hand for one man who was authentic inside and outside. He stands all by himself as someone I can say I truly respected and truly trusted and who was the best leader I ever worked with.

So to be a quintessential leader, you must be authentic. Who you are must match what you say and do. Your life, if opened up and dissected for all the world, must match the words you’ve spoken and the actions you have both taken and modeled, in every aspect of life. Anything less means moral compromise and moral compromise means failure.