GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: The Moral Failure of Leaders: Business, Sports and Politics by Jack Stark, PhD, author of "The Championship Formula: How to Transform Your Team Into a Dynasty."
Everyone has flaws. They key to success and to being a great leader is to not have too many flaws and especially to not have a fatal flaw.
What is a fatal flaw?
Think Madoff, Enron, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, John Edwards, those caught up in the Penn State sex scandal and many others.
The cause of the “fatal flaws” is twofold – one moral and the other psychological.
I have always had a hard time figuring out why these seemingly bright, talented, well-educated leaders could fail so spectacularly and often so abruptly.
Then I remembered my training on moral development.
Leaders often fail when they don’t pass through the six stages of moral development during their formative childhood years. People can be “stuck” in the highest stage they attain and that stage will govern their moral behavior unless there is a significant intervention and treatment process.
Stages of Moral Development
- Stage 1 Avoiding punishment (the most basic stage of moral development often found in young children).
- Stage 2 Serving self-interest (a dangerous stage to be stuck in morally, where the focus is “What’s in it for me?” and moral decisions are based on “What can I get out of it?”)
- Stage 3 Seeking approval from others (the stage usually occurring on one’s teens in which one behaves morally to live up to the expectations of others).
- Stage 4 Following authority (someone in this stage does as told and follows the rules).
- Stage 5 Respect for social order (in this stage of moral development, one’s behavior is driven by the desire to maintain social order and avoid chaos in society).
- Stage 6 Universal ethical principles (in this highest stage of moral development one is guided by conscience according to universal moral principles).
The followers of leaders—be they employees, colleagues, fans, members of a religious group, or the rank and file of a military branch—want and need their leaders and heroes and to have character infused with the highest level of moral development. We want to follow and believe in someone whose personality traits we admire. It’s the glue that keeps us united.
"The cause of the “fatal flaws” is twofold – one moral and the other psychological."
The ability to handle high-pressure, challenging tasks can be addictive. For some high-profile leaders, that level of pressure, in combination with opportunities to behave unethically, has led to their failure. We can learn from their unethical behavior.
My experience (thousands of interviews, interventions and therapy) allowed me to have insights into deceitful, unethical leaders and uncover the top 10 reasons why leaders fail—in my opinion based on my experience. The reasons are not in any priority ranking and often multiple reasons contribute to a leader’s demise.
Top 10 Reasons Leaders Fail
- Greed. I’m going to get mine since everyone else is and besides, I deserve it. Look at what I have done.
- Insecurity. Poor self-esteem based on family experiences – shockingly high.
- Power. I am in control – I want and get the attention I need.
- Arrogance. Delusion belief: I am better than anyone else.
- Narcissism. Severe form of selfishness and often an inability to love others.
- Paranoia. Never trust anyone – no such thing as loyalty.
- Manic Behavior. Obsessively driven which often results in a big crash.
- Addictions. Drugs, alcohol, gambling and sexual compulsions.
- Burnout and Depression. Often hidden and at least subconsciously reasons for irrational behavior.
- Moral Deficiencies. Primitive moral development and rationalization and blaming.
About the author: Jack Stark, PhD is a Clinical, Sports & Performance Psychologist & Executive Director and the author of the upcoming book, "The Championship Formula: How to Transform Your Team Into a Dynasty."