When Leaders Fail…

courtesy of london business school

…the results reverberate throughout their organizations.

Recently, the Atlanta Public School system has been rocked by a system-wide (and allegedly sanctioned) standardized testing cheating scandal. Teachers and Administrators have been accused of providing students with answers to standardized tests, devising elaborate verbal and non-verbal cues to aid students while testing, and more. These procedures were allegedly implemented to demonstrate gains in the Annual Yearly Progress (or AYP) reports of Atlanta’s public schools (you can read about the scandal in its entirety).

Authorities allege that cheating was encouraged and sanctioned by the highest levels of leadership within the Atlanta Public School Board, including the development of a culture of intimidation for those who balked at adhering to the cheating plan. Since the scandal broke in 2010, the APS superintendent retired (a new leader has since been brought in to right the ship), members of the Board have resigned, and nearly 200 educators have been told to quit or be fired as a result of their alleged involvement in the cheating scandal.

This unfortunate episode is yet another example of what happens when those who lead lack the fundamental elements of effective leadership. Without proper grounding, ineffective leaders develop a “do whatever it takes” mentality in attempting to achieve organizational goals. Rather than honestly assess shortfalls and develop succinct step-by-step plans for remediation, ineffective and immature leaders devolve into “protectionist” mode and shave the edges off rational and ethical actions.

In his book “Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow” (2009), Craig Johnson wrote “when we assume the benefits of leadership, we also assume ethical burdens” (p. xvi). When a leader assumes the helm of any group or organization, he or she also inherits ultimate accountability for the success or failure of that entity. In his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” (2007), John Maxwell noted that everything rises and falls on leadership – and everything means everything.

Leaders must be ethically accountable for their actions because they set the tone for what is tolerated (or abhorred) in their organizations. If “do as I say, not as I do” pervades the organizational culture, then anarchy cannot be far behind. The effects of this scandal have yet to be fully realized. Sure, people will lose their jobs (rightfully so if they encouraged unethical behavior), but students will suffer as well.

Since leaders apparently felt that the appearance of compliance was more important than substantive understanding of course materials, parents (and future) teachers will need to ensure that these kids gain the knowledge to master their coursework. Also, APS leaders have helped perpetuate the perception that public school teachers care more about “annual yearly progress” and “their jobs” more than they care about their students.

Unfortunately, when leaders fail their followers bear the weight of the consequences as well.

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4 responses to “When Leaders Fail…

  1. fairly stimulating. Nonetheless, I beg your pardon, because I do not give credence to your whole plan, all be it radical none the less. It looks to me that your opinions are generally not completely justified and in actuality you are generally yourself not really fully certain of your assertion. In any event I did appreciate reading it.

    • Hi Canon,

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation. I must admit…I’m a bit confused by your observation – how can my opinions not be “justified” when they are (in fact) my perspective born from my experiences and areas of study? I assure you – I am fully certain of my assertion.

      While we may disagree on the merit of accountability in leadership, the evidence is clear that decisions have consequences – good and bad. When leaders make poor decisions based on short-sighted selfishness, their followers suffer.

  2. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don’t know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

    • Thanks for the enthusiastic support, Daniel – and I’m glad you ended up here as well! While I’m not sure I’ll be a famous blogger one day (LOL), I’m happy if you and others find my content substantive and worth the time it takes to read it.

      Thanks again for stopping by…

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