Bottom Line Inc

The Leadership Gap

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I used to love the Hollywood awards shows. Just like so many fans, I felt like I had a personal relationship with my favorite movie and television stars and couldn’t wait to see them in their fancy dresses, hear their speeches and watch them interact with their friends. A few days after the show, I would eagerly buy the latest issue of People magazine to see all the behind-the-scenes photos.

That was then…when celebrities were simply entertainers who entered my world telling stories through their acting or music and didn’t presume to be health experts, baby experts or political pundits. Celebrities today are so busy making political speeches that the reason for the award—their artistry—is only a subscript in the report of their latest expletive-filled social or political statements.

But here’s the big question—who died and made them king? Where are their credentials? Why should I listen to them? What experience or training does Suzanne Somers have as a hormone expert? And why should people trust Jessica Alba’s Honest baby products, especially since the company is facing a lawsuit for dishonest labeling? As for the never-ending stream of celebrities who feel it is their duty to make political statements—did any of them actually study government or economics? Do they have facts…or just populist talking points?

In my view, those who espouse information should have the expertise to support their position. Otherwise, they are just “opinionators” with a really big, noisy platform that—sadly—draws a whole lot of attention and potentially disseminates a whole lot of misinformation.

Sure, celebrities have always had big platforms and even larger followings. And many of them are intelligent and very well-educated. But something has changed in recent years, and I think it is dangerous for our society.

The experts and heroes we looked up to and respected for their knowledge and leadership have fallen from their posts bit by bit…scandal by scandal. In recent years, financial tycoons such as Michael Milken and Bernie Madoff have proved to be fraudsters, ruining many lives. Hundreds of religious leaders have been found guilty of sexual abuse…of children! Trusted newscasters turn out to be liars (Brian Williams) and trusted news hosts and media moguls are sexual harassers (Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Les Moonves…and many more). Corporate leaders whose egos superseded their responsibilities to their companies and shareholders (Kenneth Lay of Enron), record-breaking professional athletes who cheated their way to the top (Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGuire and a president of the US who was impeached by the House of Representatives for an extramarital affair with a young intern.

These represent merely a fraction of the many, many men and women who have fallen from grace. Why do they do it? Ego? Insecurity? Emotional issues? Mommy issues? Who knows?  Who cares? The fact is, their moral compasses are way off course, and they have thrown the trust that they earned in the faces of their victims and the public that brought them to their positions.

The impact? A society that, frankly, doesn’t know who to trust anymore. These people were smart and experienced and had golden credentials…and yet they proved to be absolutely spineless when it came to integrity. What is left are people needing leadership and looking for someone—anyone—who can provide a message and direction that they can believe in.

There is a great monologue in Aaron Sorkin’s 1995 screenplay for the film The American President, in which presidential aide Michael J. Fox implores Michael Douglas (the president) to take a stand against his critics. “People want leadership, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone that steps up to the microphone

Our leadership has abdicated its responsibilities…and the celebrities, bloggers and insta-influencers are stepping up to the microphone. Is this what we want? Cardboard leadership? Opinionators with a keyboard and selfie stick? Everyone has opinions…that doesn’t make them right or effective.

Letting the loudest voices lead just because they are the loudest is a dangerous premise for the future of our economy, our social fabric and our country. We need voices with sound opinions, inspiring rhetoric and, most important, knowledge and experience to back it up.

Leaders: You are destroying yourselves, your families and your legacies when you trade success for hubris. If you’re good, you don’t need lies and abusive acts to reinforce your role. Simply be good. Simply leverage the skills that got you to the top.

Followers: Don’t be fooled by the seductive performances of empty suits…or designer gowns on red carpets. Do your own research. Understand the real issues and facts…from all sides. You can’t complain about results if you blindly follow. It’s your choice.

New voices and new perspectives are vital to growth and evolution. Just be certain that you’re following voices that are developed beyond the veneer.

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