Purposeful Leadership: Reputation and Principles

Over the past week, I have come across articles about firms in our industry who are paying substantial fines for fraudulent practices. Unrelated to that, some colleagues from Atlanta were discussing the issues in the Atlanta school system, where a few years ago, teachers had test correction parties to alter answers on tests before they were run through the scanners, so that they could point to improved test scores.

In all of these instances, it is evident that the behavior, unethical to say the least, was carried out not necessarily by a few, but it was systemic in the organizations. It had been going on for some time. And, the behavior was identified and called out not by an internal whistle blower, but by an outside agency.

It is disconcerting to think that among all the people associated with these actions, there wasn’t someone who had the courage to stand up and say “this is wrong”. One colleague noted that these were not necessarily bad people, but that they were following a herd mentality. The key point here is that the behavior was not only known by the leadership, but sanctioned by it. In such cases, the leadership has abandoned any moral prerogative to lead.

If you are not leading to take people to a higher level, then your leadership is void of purpose. 

Leadership is not just about the direction you are taking, but it is harder than that. It is about holding others to your standards of integrity and respect.

At the 2013 Masters, Tiger Woods was almost disqualified for an illegal drop. Instead, he was penalized two strokes. In an interview later, he said the legal drop zone was in a muddy area, which would have made a more difficult spot. The point is, he knew where he was supposed to drop it, but didn’t. I contrast this with the anecdote of the legendary Bobby Jones, who penalized himself when he inadvertently touched the ball when no one was looking. There was a principle that Jones honored and reflected. We need more of those heroes – those who hold principals and integrity higher than themselves. Those willing to make a sacrifice for a higher purpose.

It’s not easy leading based on principal and holding yourself and others to higher standards, but isn’t that how we grow and improve – professionally and ethically? Isn’t that growth the thing that we are motivated to do? To leave things better than the way they were when we took the lead?


“The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”

James Buchanan


“Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call to self-importance.”

 J. Donald Walters