Many public figures have fallen into self-destructive moral failures, shocking no one. But do you know why leaders fail morally? The temptations that swirl around the rich, famous, and powerful would be hard for any of us to resist. But occasionally, a moral crisis ensnares someone so respected, revered, and loved that we find ourselves utterly stunned.
With a desire to honor God, set a good example, and lead my family and others well, I’ve been looking at these stories. I wanted to find the factors common to these falls. As I share these 7 reasons why leaders fail morally, I must tell you. I am not immune to any temptation or wrongdoing, so I have to be alert and on guard in all circumstances, too.
Lack of Accountability
The more popular or powerful one gets, the less often others seem to confront him or her about questionable decisions. The leaders who empower others to call them out when needed (without fear of retribution) understand that they need to be held responsible, and they recognize their capacity to be corrupted.
Lack of Humility
Pride is a subtle enemy of the leader who wields it and often precedes spectacular failures. When you assume everything you touch is gold, that all you do is good, you stop even questioning your own actions. But leaders who remember their capacity to choose poorly understand the value of humility to avoid moral blindness.
I’ve learned to be alarmed when my instinctive response to a leader’s moral failure is “I would never do that!” Leaders who assume they’re immune from temptation are setting themselves up to fail. The leader who responds to others’ failures by admitting “I am fully capable of that, too” stays more alert to his or her true vulnerabilities and manages temptations better.
Fear of Loss
We can make some crazy decisions when fear is the motivation. When leaders fear the loss of power, influence, money, or relationships, the proverbial desperate times drive them to desperate (and often immoral) measures. The leader who counters those fears with a commitment to integrity understands that immoral choices, no matter the motive, always lead to deeper losses than the fears that drive them.
When is enough enough? The leader who answers “Never!” is set up for crisis and moral failure. Discontentment and lust for what we don’t have blind us to the joy and value of what we do have and corrupt our moral vision. The leader who celebrates success with true gratitude keeps the corrosion of greed at arm’s length.
Lack of Guardrails
In recent years, the personal policy that late evangelist Billy Graham had—avoiding being alone with women who weren’t his wife—has come under great scrutiny and derision. But if a respected, moral preacher like Billy Graham could recognize the need to avoid temptation and even the appearance of impropriety, maybe we all should consider that, too. It’s an example of a “guardrail” or personal boundary that all leaders should consider using to protect themselves and their loved ones. Just like you need guardrails on dangerous roads, leaders who set and honor their own personal boundaries protect themselves and others better.
Never Apologizing or Admitting Fault
I’ve noticed that people who never seem to have reason to apologize tend to blame others for their problems and mistakes, never themselves. Leaders who own their mistakes and ask others for forgiveness (often in spite of worry that they’ll be diminished and disrespected) are often easily forgiven, more respected, and better protected.
What are some reasons why leaders fail, in your observation? Share in a comment below.