Do Leaders Have to Follow the Rules?

With the corner office, comes responsibility.


May 2, 2007 — -- Leadership. The corner office, the tough decisions, the ability to determine priorities, the perks, the press, the paycheck (pardon me, but alliteration is something I do in my sleep) -- most of us would agree that these are all components of leadership.

But do leaders also share a responsibility to follow the rules? The rules they've established for everyone else to follow?

As a former adjunct professor for MBA students, I'll employ a case study method to explore this question. Case study No. 1 is Paul "I'm the victim of a smear" Wolfowitz.

If Wolfowitz was a midlevel manager in the World Bank, it's likely he would have been fired for pushing for a big raise for a girlfriend. Let's face it, if he worked for your company he would have long since been hustled out of the building by security guards.

But Wolfowitz isn't a midlevel manager, he's calling the shots. And though bloody and battered, he continues to hang on, to the detriment of the organization. OK, that was a bold statement. But I've studied many organizations who were being led by someone being beaten up by the press, in the courts, etc. And it's not a pretty sight.

Heck, organizations have enough trouble focusing on what needs to be done when all of their ducks are in order. Leaders need to understand that when they become too much of a distraction, they must go. Any other course of action is just too dangerous to the vitality of the organizations they're leading.

And we're not talking about a dry cleaner or a convenience store. Wolfowitz is running the World Bank -- far too much is at stake to have that organizations limping along. So let me throw my haymaker now -- I believe leaders should scrupulously and visibly follow the rules of their organizations. Literally, these men should walk down to the HR department and ask the simple question, if this happened to any other employee in the organization, would that employee still have a job?

I'm not naïve. Leaders routinely take advantage of policies and perks that lower-level managers couldn't dream of taking. That is an organizational reality that first surfaced sometime during the Roman Empire. And I think what happened to the Roman Empire should serve as a warning.

However, Wolfowitz is forgetting one very important bit of human nature. When a leader does something, every other manager in the organization believes that this behavior is now condoned. In the same way when you make a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox, the result is a blurry mess. This is why Wolfowitz must go -- because his sin has turned a vital and focused organization into a blurry mess.

"Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings." -- C.D. Jackson

From: "Love 'em or Lose 'em" by Kaye and Jordon (Berrett Kohler, 2002)

"Listening to the truth -- over lunch. Talk about gift giving. This one -- the truth -- is powerful. We know of one division head who gave each employee $50, telling all of them to choose a restaurant and take their manager out to lunch for some straight talk and honest feedback about performance and development needs."

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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