Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it. – Lord Acton
Lord Acton’s dictum, made in 1887, clearly warns us that the practice of wielding power and influence can corrode the character of leaders. History is replete with examples of individuals who wielded unchecked power and eroded not only their own integrity, but also the ethical and moral foundations of the organizations they led and brought them to catastrophe and ruin. This danger is true of all organizations including businesses, religious institutions, and governments.
Here is the risk inherent in leadership: The greater the leader’s power, wealth, authority, and influence, the more likely the leader could succumb to ethical lapses and moral failings. The risk increases if the organization has a culture that lacks financial or managerial transparency and accountability, has insufficient checks and balances on executive power, and discourages criticism from subordinates or members. When a leader with a poorly developed ethical or moral sense ends up leading an organization with a culture that prevents ethical self-examination, a slow but perfect storm starts to form that demands compromise from all levels of leadership and eventually leads to catastrophic consequences. [Read more…]