Your leadership mandate fails when people start to believe it has.
“I did nothing wrong.” So many failed executives begin there to explain unsuccessful stints as leaders. But I’m here to tell you that it’s the appearance of failure that precedes executive failure, not actual failure.
President Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort’s home was raided by the FBI this week in ongoing investigations of whether the Trump campaign had improper contacts with Russia. This follows months upon months of speculation about improprieties involving Russia.
The cynics and opposition already believe Trump is unethical. Trump’s defenders claim there isn’t evidence of the accused impropriety, and that extreme political attacks from the opposition are leading to mass insinuation regarding collusion with Russia.
But when the campaign chair is raided by the FBI, even the defenders have to pause and think. It looks like the apolitical investigators believe Trump’s closest advisors can’t be trusted to be forthcoming. And that is where an executive’s mandate gets crushed. Trump’s defenders will, perhaps rightly, say that no wrongdoing was done. And they miss the point. Because it’s the appearance of impropriety that destroys your mandate, eventually.
If you’re an executive, you don’t have to engage in acts of conspiracy to defraud your shareholders to be removed from office for conspiring to defraud your shareholders. And you don’t have to sleep with your subordinate to be removed for inappropriate workplace relationships. You just need enough people to believe that the accusations are possible.
If people believe an accusation is possible, you’ve already lost. And when numbers and facts start to back it up, it becomes easier to believe. How many times did you inappropriately round those numbers in that financial report? How often did you take overnight trips alone with that one subordinate? How many meetings did your organization have with Russian organizations. These elements of appearance quickly become perceived evidence of impropriety.
You want to keep your mandate? Appear and act like you should.
Here is one of the most useful aphorisms in life and work: We judge ourselves on our intentions, and we judge others on their actions. Remember that you’re being judged on your actions—even the appearance of your actions—no matter your intentions (or even the private facts).
What do you think?