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21 Jul '11

Rupert Murdock and a failure of leadership

Rupert Murdock failed his ultimate leadership test this week when asked whether he was ultimately responsible for "this whole Fiasco" in British Parliament. He tersely replied "No." When asked who was he said "The people that I trusted to run it and then maybe the people they trusted (The Nation, Thursday July 21, 2011)."

Murdock failed his leadership test on three counts. First leaders always take responsibility when something goes south in their organization. His explanation that he has 35,000 employees and cannot keep track of what they do means nothing. Leaders take responsibility when there is trouble. They do not point fingers at others and blame them for ultimately the buck stops a the senior level. Further, if you are going to  blame others that you hired, who is ultimately responsible if not the one who did the hiring! And, if your senior leader ducks the blame, why should not everyone else down the chain?


This is not only a failure of leadership but a failure of courage. It is like a kid getting caught and pointing his finger at another kid and saying, "He did it." Leaders man up! They don't blame others.


Second, Murdock failed his leadership test by hiring and keeping individuals who did not have a strong moral compass. Perhaps they made money for him and that was enough. Leaders lead through the quality of the people they hire - first their moral convictions and second their business expertise. He certainly had business expertise but he failed to hire people with high moral convictions. If there is one failure common to many such situations it is that corporations have filled their ranks with many who have no moral foundation allowing the widespread practices as in this case of immoral and illegal behavior.


Third, Murdock failed as a leader by failing to set a high standard to ethical, legal and moral practices that were the expectation of all those who worked for him. It strains credulity to believe that he did not know that corners were being cut - all he needed to do was to read his own papers and it would be obvious that there was something going on. If others could figure it out, so could he. But the company lacked a moral compass that only he could both model and insist on. Obviously it was possible to work in a culture where illegal and unethical practices were either ignored or accepted.


These three failures of leadership are fundamental flaws that would sooner or later have come to light. Those of us who lead ought to take notice and ask if we share any of these three threats to our own leadership.