How important is personal character to leadership? A question that is always asked when we see a lapse in a leader’s character like we did with the sudden resignation of General David Petraeus. In his announcement Petraeus said, “I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.” The stakes are very high when a leader in a high position makes himself vulnerable like this, particularly when that position is Director of the CIA.
General Petraeus would tell you that personal character and public leadership are inextricably linked. The decision to resign was clear to him, but not so to everyone. Senator Diane Feinstein, on the Senate Intelligence Committee since 1993 and chair of that committee since 2009, sees it differently. Feinstein said, “I wish President Obama had not accepted this resignation, but I understand and respect the decision.” She said that she would have “stood up for him” and “I wanted him to continue.”
Petraeus’ resignation was essential and he knew it because he is an authentic leader. For Senator Feinstein to publicly wish it wasn’t so, is simply poor leadership. Poor leadership that we have become very tolerant of. No one has a keener radar for the ethical rationalizations that have numbed America than ethics pro Jack Marshall. I could not have said it better than he did, so I will not try…
I have no doubt, none at all, that had Petraeus chosen to stay, the public, the Obama Administration, Republicans (who idolize him) and Democrats like Feinstein would have been thrilled to allow him, and to let the scandal fade away. After all, he’s good at his job—it was just one mistake—it’s only sex—lots of leaders do it—he’s only human—it was personal conduct…forgiveness is divine. We know these by heart, don’t we? They were all trotted out ad nauseam in the defense of President Clinton, who as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces also should be living by the Army’s principles of leadership, and who not only engaged in on-the-job adultery but with a subordinate employee, and lied about it under oath, twice. Accountability is almost invisible on Capitol Hill. Leadership means holding power, keeping it, wielding it, not ennobling it. The public sees so little true leadership that it no longer recognizes what a leader is. – Jack Marshall
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