By Kevin Meyer
I wasn't planning on wading into this whole Representative Anthony Weiner fiasco but the rationalization by his apologists has just gone too far. Luckily the brighter of his own party are beginning to realize that this isn't just a minor issue. I'm not being partisan – I'd make these exact same comments if the shoe was on the other foot – like it was for Congressman Christopher Lee a few months ago. At least that photo was above the waist – and he still resigned just a few hours after his failure was revealed.
Many people are saying that a person's sex life isn't the business of anyone else. Perhaps – but things change when you become a leader. At that point people are trusting you to make decisions for them, and decisions are based on character. Every guy deals with the constant struggle between the little head and the big head and the vast majority of us know which one to ultimately listen to. This isn't about Americans being too puritanical or about diving into someone's private life. It is about character.
There are even a few folks that are rationalizing the lying. For days Weiner flat out lied to his constituents, to the press, to his peers, and to the rest of us. Lying of any sort is a fireable offense in pretty much any organization, but some say lying is ok in this situation. Seriously? That's what put me over the edge. Where exactly does "this situation" end and others begin? Understanding that there is no such boundary requires character. Character creates trust. And that's the foundation of real leadership.
Character is not divisible. Thought patterns in the brain are not divisible. You cannot say a person has a high level of character in one area and forgive a lack of character in another. You cannot say a person can make great decisions in one aspect of life and be a complete idiot in another. It's the same brain. The differences are made consciously, and the fact that there are differences points directly at a lack of character. That's especially true when it wasn't one lapse of judgement but many. And we probably don't know everything yet.
Just a few days ago I wrote about Ohio State's fallen football coach, Jim Tressel. A great man and a great coach in many respects – except that he ignored serious ethical violations by his team. Since he's responsible for his team and knew of those violations, he also owned that ethical lapse. Because of that ethical lapse, a lack of character, we cannot consider him a great leader.
Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic and currently a professor at Harvard Business School, also dove into Weinergate this week. He hits it on the head with how it relates to value-centered leadership:
Leading is high stress work. There is no way to avoid the constant challenges of being responsible for people, organizations, outcomes, and uncertainties in the environment. Leaders who move up have greater freedom to control their destinies, but also experience increased pressure and seduction.
Leaders can avoid these pitfalls by devoting themselves to personal development that cultivates their inner compass, or True North. This requires reframing their leadership from being heroes to being servants of the people they lead. This process requires thought and introspection because many people get into leadership roles in response to their ego needs. It enables them to transition from seeking external gratification to finding internal satisfaction by making meaningful contributions through their leadership.
Lean leaders understand the concept of True North, and most of us also embrace servant leadership. That's character, ethics, and humility. Knowing that you serve, not that you are served. That's especially true in politics where a politician is directly responsible to his constituents and to his peers.
Congressman Weiner may excite a lot of people, may have many great ideas, and probably would have had a great future. But he doesn't have a solid, fundamental character. Because of that he doesn't deserve the trust of his constituents, peers, and the rest of the public. And that's why he is not and should not be a leader.