Monday, October 09, 2006

Lessons from a scandal

As House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Congressional leaders struggle with former Congressman Foley’s sexual e-mails and instant messages with Congressional pages, I remember the painful lessons I learned when a former colleague at a religious nonprofit was involved in sexual misconduct.

Here are five lessons I learned:

1) Leaders who do great good can lead double lives. My former colleague was a founder of the organization, dedicated to its well-being, and a fun person to work with. At the same time he led a secret life that included sexual abuse of minors.

2) Sexual misconduct by leaders is a misuse of power. Congressman Foley, by position and age, had much more power than the teenage Congressional pages. He was using his power to benefit himself at the expense of the pages.

3) There are powerful forces within organizations to cover-up misconduct. Misconduct is power wrapped in fear and shame. As the Foley scandal unfolds, it’s apparent that as long as three years ago a Congressional staffer tried to warn Hastert of Foley’s danger to pages. At the same time, leaders who see themselves as doing good, find it extremely difficult to expose themselves by revealing the shameful behavior of a colleague. Fear and shame fuel cover-ups.

4) Misconduct by leaders never remains hidden. My nonprofit colleague managed to keep his secret life hidden for 15 years. He used his power and prestige to silence his primary victim. But, as many an institution has discovered, sooner or later misconduct always reveals itself.

5) Scandal calls for humility. Damage control is the height of arrogance. Organizations cannot quietly manage significant ethical violations by a leader. When such violations occur, the organization needs humble leaders who will reveal the misconduct, take responsibility for seeing that the person is removed from a position of further misusing power, and seeing that those who were injured are cared for.

According to Evergreen Leaders humble hierarchy path, the best leaders have little personal ambition, an unwavering will to help the organization transform the lives of those it serves, and a will to create space for all to thrive.

Wisdom for the week: To humbly admit and quickly deal with ethical violations is the surest path your organization can take to get back to helping transform the lives of those it serves.

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