Leadership Excellence: It’s What We Do, not What We Say

March Leadership News

We judge a leader by what they do! Here are some notable leaders whose actions speak very loudly about their integrity — or lack of it.

AP Photo of Petraeus and Broadwell in happier times.

AP Photo of Petraeus and Broadwell in happier times.

David Petraeus was forced to resign from his job as CIA director in 2012 after security breaches were revealed through his extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. The scandal revitalized the leadership theory, the Bathsheba Syndrome, and made Petraeus a strange combination of laughing stock and poster child for an apparently common problem in the military.

This week in the news, Petraeus admitted that he gave Broadwell access to classified “black books” with information “regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant David Howell Petraeus’s discussions with the President of the United States of America.” His plea deal acknowledges that he lied in sworn testimony about the information he shared, and will pay a $40,000 fine, and serve two years probation.

This news demonstrates that Petraeus was more than careless with his private life, but shared classified information that could have impacted national security. Although his post-scandal life has been quiet, he’s used his clout to find high-paying, high-powered work. It seems likely this will make those who gave him a second chance think twice before sharing any secrets.

Burma's President Thein Sein (r) meets with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 2 March 2015. Burma

Burma’s President Thein Sein (r) meets with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 2 March 2015. (Democratic Voice of Burma)

In the meantime, Burma’s President Thein Sein met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw yesterday to discuss constitutional reform and steps to ensure free and fair elections later this year, according to the Information Minister Ye Htut.

Despite being routinely shut out of decisions, and her influence denied since her release from house arrest and rise to limited leadership, Aung San Suu Kyi has persisted in raising her voice for democracy in the struggling country. Arguably, even under house arrest, she led through persistence.

In her Nobel lecture in June, 2012, she defined what persistence means: listening, acting, connecting, and advocating for the people:

“My party, the National League for Democracy, and I stand ready and willing to play any role in the process of national reconciliation. The reform measures that were put into motion by President U Thein Sein’s government can be sustained only with the intelligent cooperation of all internal forces: the military, our ethnic nationalities, political parties, the media, civil society organizations, the business community and, most important of all, the general public. We can say that reform is effective only if the lives of the people are improved and in this regard, the international community has a vital role to play. Development and humanitarian aid, bi-lateral agreements and investments should be coordinated and calibrated to ensure that these will promote social, political and economic growth that is balanced and sustainable. The potential of our country is enormous. This should be nurtured and developed to create not just a more prosperous but also a more harmonious, democratic society where our people can live in peace, security and freedom.”

So, what’s the buzz? These are two very different leaders, and different leadership issues!

I know, today’s news is apples and oranges: a leader fallen from grace and influence can’t be equally compared to an international democracy activist who persists despite innumerable obstacles. Both are civic and state leaders, and they’re in leadership news this week, but I suppose that’s where any factual comparison ends.

But looking at these two newsmakers, we can see that it matters, always, what leaders do, how they do it, and why they make the choices they make. It matters whether they’re in and out of integrity, standing or falling in the face of obstacles, taking action behind the scenes or in the public eye. It matters because it’s how we know whether they deserve the influence and respect they command. In a world where media brings us as much news as we can absorb, we see what leaders do.

I want the good news and the bad about our leaders. Maybe it’s the best way to learn to stand up, or stand up again when we fall. Great leaders make us want to stand up and lead. But leaders lead us however badly or well they succeed, through what they do.


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