5 Choices to Make after a Leader Falls

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I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and hypocrisy lately, particularly in small beginnings. When a great leader starts his/her journey, small decisions present themselves. Who that leader is in the smallest, most unnoticed decisions is actually who he/she is in the larger ones. You don’t become disingenuous overnight. You begin the slide toward hypocrisy and duplicity by choosing to fudge once, then again, then again. You begin to see yourself as invincible once you’ve succeeded in those little sins, then believe your own press that because you are helping people, you can slip here and there.

But eventually truth wins out.

I’m a huge fan of Jon Krakauer. His nonfiction, whether chronicling an ill-fated Everest expedition, or detailing a recluse’s demise (among other works), stunned and humbled me. His meticulous research, succinct and wooing prose, and his matter-of-fact demeanor has been an inspiration to me.

I’m also a huge fan of Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea. and Stones into Schools. Three Cups of Tea is one of those books that has helped enlarge my view of the world and kept me humbled in terms of my own lethargy in tackling the world’s needs.

So you can imagine how saddened I felt after these two behemoths of the publishing world collided in controversy.

Krakauer penned an expose of Mortenson, a short e-book entitled Three Cups of Deceit with compelling evidence that Mortenson misrepresented what he wrote in his first and second book. In addition, he revealed several red flags in terms of Mortenson’s unaccounted for business practices, including over-estimating how many schools he erected, using the charity’s money for possible personal gain (without receipt or documentation), and unorthodox (or lack of) accounting practices.

This last week, 60 Minutes aired their own investigation that substantiates Krakauer’s words. It’s worth watching the 14-minute piece.

The whole story saddened me.

Not because I needed Greg Mortenson to be my hero.

But because of this scary statement by Lord Acton: All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

When we taste power, we have a choice. We can choose to continue to make wise decisions no one sees, or we can fudge a little and justify. We can ask others to hold us accountable, to grant transparency in everything we do, or we can bully and hide our increasingly corrupt decisions. We can open our hearts to naysayers, really listening, or we can vilify anyone who questions us.

So how do we respond when a big leader let’s us down? 5 Choices.

  1. See their story as a cautionary tale. None of us is outside the reach of fame’s lure. We may say that we will have utter integrity, but we forget how clay-footed we are. Mortenson’s story should remind us that truth exists and pushes its way to the surface eventually. We cannot cover it up. To do so is like submerging a beach ball in the ocean for a lengthy period of time. Eventually our strength to suppress our antics subsides, and the truth pops up.
  2. Make good choices in the darkness. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). There’s no such thing as a fallen leader who made one bad, big decision. It started first with little white lies, small deceits, and underground dalliances. You always have the choice to be honest in small things, and those small decisions prepare you to have integrity as you face bigger decisions.
  3. Embrace oversight. Since we humans tend toward selfishness, we need accountability. Don’t despise oversight, but welcome it. Be daring enough to hear criticism, then swallow and digest it. Don’t spout off your initial reaction, but rein it in. Even if someone confronts you and 90% of what they say is wrong (in your eyes), accept it graciously, then determine to heed the 10%.
  4. Don’t allow one leader’s demise to demoralize your own desire to change the world. This life is an ironman triathlon, not a hundred-yard dash. A leader falling is one part of the journey. Learn from their mistakes. Grieve. Get mad. But persevere.
  5. If you’ve been personally affected by the fallen leader, seek to work through your difficulty. In time, walk in forgiveness–in no way excusing behavior, but instead becoming a grace-filled forgiver. This doesn’t mean you hang out with the fallen leader and open yourself up for more injury. It simply means you let go of the bitterness for the sake of those you lead today.

I don’t know what the outcome to Krakauer’s and 60 Minutes’ assertions will be. But I can make decisions today to walk in the light, make wise decisions in the small things, and persevere.