Scandal is the nightmare of leaders because a single scandal has the propensity for pulling down a reputation built over decades. So, leaders try as much as possible to avoid scandals and when they get into scandalous acts they try their utmost to keep such concealed. However, the average human being is interested in salacious tales. He is not just interested in news about a company’s profit or the country’s gross domestic product or the budget, he is also interested in the unsavoury news that concerns the leader. He wants to know more about the leader than the average leader is willing to spare. That is why news about frauds overshadows that about good corporate performance. The average human being is wired to sniff out, revel in and spread gist about the underhand dealings of others. This is why a huge industry has emerged from peddling gossips and sensational news about the high and the mighty in society.
The undoing of many leaders is their warped belief that secrets could be kept forever. Goaded by this lie, they carry out certain activities either under the cloak of darkness or behind closed doors believing that these would never be known to the world. But the only secret that remains a secret is that which involves just one person. If a matter is between two or more persons, the tendency of this to get into the open is quite high. Once a dirty secret leaks, it becomes a scandal which is often beyond the control of the perpetrator.
The deceit of success
History is replete with leaders who became victims of their own success. Many leaders believe that nothing should be beyond their reach and they refrain from denying themselves of whatever their hearts lust after. They seek more power, go after more money and go to any length to satisfy their urge. Oftentimes while pursuing these, they breach the law and bruise others’ ego but they are not bothered by either because they see their position as a shield from the law and a right to perpetrate the unlawful. They also believe that they are able to cover their tracks until what they thought was carefully concealed from prying eyes becomes a street gist that brings them down.
Dominique Strauss-Khan excelled both in academics, where he rose to become a respected Economics Professor; and in politics, where he served his country both as a member of parliament and a minister. As French Minister of Economics, Finance and Industry, he achieved the feat of increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), decreasing public debt and increasing employment. He also implemented the privatization of France Telecom. So successful was he as a minister and politician that he narrowly missed being his party’s candidate in the 2007 presidential election, which his party eventually lost.
In July 2007, Strauss-Khan emerged the consensus European nominee for the post of Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He was eventually selected in September by the 24 Executive Directors of the IMF to replace Rodrigo Rato, whose tenure was about to expire.
On assumption of duty, Strauss-Khan promised to “pursue without delay the reforms needed for the IMF to make financial stability serve the international community, while fostering growth and employment”. But that was not the only thing that engaged Strauss-Khan’s attention; he shared his time between his duty and the ladies in the organization.
As early as 2008, there were allegations that the IMF Managing Director had an affair with a married subordinate, Piroska Nagy, who alleged that she was coerced into the relationship. This forced the IMF board to appoint an investigator to look into the matter. The IMF board later cleared Strauss-Khan of abuse of power but noted that the affair was “regrettable and reflected a serious error of judgment on the part of the managing director.” Strauss-Kahn issued a public apology for the affair.
But the Managing Director was not done yet. In 2011, when he had become a leading candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, Strauss-Khan was arrested by the police when he was about to board a plane following the allegation by a New York hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, that the IMF boss had assaulted her in a bid to rape her. He was subsequently charged to court. Four days after his arrest, he voluntarily resigned his post at the IMF. Although the charges leveled against him were eventually dismissed, Strauss-Khan admitted that the relationship between him and the maid was ‘inappropriate’ but that it did not involve violence or aggression.
For his ‘inappropriate’ relationship with a hotel maid, Strauss-Khan lost the headship of IMF and the chance to become his country’s president. What a price to pay for a moment of indiscretion.
How leaders can avoid scandals
Although the forbidden holds an attraction for successful people, leaders can avoid scandals by observing the following.
A leader may not know his followers as much as he ought to, but he must know himself and must be honest enough with himself to admit his weak points. Knowing himself and what he is naturally disposed to doing when no one is watching helps a leader to take measures which will tame his lust and greed. A leader who knows that he has a weakness for mixing the organization’s resources with his own should take steps to separate the two and put one of his subordinates in charge of checking this so that he does not end up using official funds for personal projects. Greed is innate to man and unless steps are taken to put this in check, it will flourish and founder a great reputation.
In the same vein, a leader who knows that he is given to behaving ‘inappropriately’ with members of the opposite s3x should put measures in place to guard against being left alone with ladies or men as the case may be. Leaders who travel the route of seizing the moment with members of the opposite s3x find themselves in that situation because they are alone with such people. To prevent this, a leader who realizes that this is a weak point for him should do everything in his power to avoid situations that will subject him to temptation.
Have same rules for public and private conducts
Leaders are models because they directly or indirectly guide the conduct of others. Others look up to leaders as moral compass. To remain relevant in this respect, a leader must ensure that he does not let down his guard. One of the ways a leader can guard against this is by maintaining his integrity. Integrity has two components; character and reputation. Character speaks of who the leader really is while reputation is about who others think he is. If there is a divergence between the two, the leader has integrity issues. It means he is not really who he claims to be. To ensure that there is no misalignment between who he is and who the people believe he is, a leader must have the same rule for his conducts in public and in private. He must not put up a conduct in private that is different from that which he puts up in public.
Develop impulse control
Most acts of indiscretion happen on impulse. Strauss-Khan could not have planned to have an ‘inappropriate’ relationship with a hotel maid he was meeting for the first time, it must have happened in the heat of the moment. A leader who intends to avoid scandals must put a lid on his impulse. Rather than giving vent to your urge, take a deep breath and refrain from taking any action for a moment. Once the moment passes, the vanity of the action that should have been taken would become clear and you would have spared yourself the likely repercussion of an ignominious act.
Every leader that wants to be remembered for his good deeds rather than his misdemeanour must be able to rein in the urge to do what is wrong. This is called discipline. If a leader lacks discipline, how can he instill it in others?
Define your limits
One of the critical factors of sustaining success is the definition of limits. A leader must take time to define his limits before getting into a fix. It is quite difficult to take a rational decision in an emergency unless such situation has been subjected to a rational reflection before the emergency. So, every leader must define his limits early in his leadership. He must decide on the kind of relationship he will not get into, the kind of price he is not willing to pay to get a deal sealed and the kind of compromise he will not get into no matter what is at stake. These limits would be like a wall that would offer him protection from external aggression when he comes under pressure to do what is not right.
Don’t let success get into your head
Success in leadership attracts some destructive trophies. But only those who remain calm and do not get inebriated by success can spurn such trophies. Those who are intoxicated by success are unable to control their thoughts and actions. They get sucked in by the perks of office and often get their fingers soiled in what they should have avoided right from the onset. By the time they get to understand this, it has become a scandal that can pull them down from their high horse. So, to avoid such situation, a leader must not allow success to get to his head.
Only the principled and the discipline can avoid scandals in leadership. So, every leader must start with the end in mind about how they want to be remembered either as a leader that dropped the ball or one that travelled the high road.