A Lesson In Leadership From The Rob Ford Saga

November 21, 2013 Vince Molinaro
Bad Leadership

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The continuing saga of embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has captured headlines  around the world. His story has been fodder for late night shows. He was even the source of parody on a Saturday Night Live skit. And for good reason – there are many different angles to this sorry tale.

On the one hand, this is a story of a powerful but desperate man ravaged by substance abuse. There is also a reality TV like true crime story emerging about how Ford’s emissaries attempted to reclaim the infamous video of him smoking crack, and may have committed extortion in the process.

However, the angle to this story that really caught my attention was how the Ford mess defines both the issue of leadership accountability and how careful leaders have to be when they live their lives in today’s world.

Before he was consumed by scandal, Ford was the undisputed leader of the city he led. He had the support of his followers – Ford Nation, who valued his direct, no nonsense style. He was a breath of fresh air in a world often filled with politicians driven by self-interest and personal ego.

From my perspective, the drama that has unfolded wasn’t a surprise at all. There were early signs that Ford is an individual with little self-control and self-awareness. The absence of which is serving to erode his personal credibility and the reputation of a city he loves.

At the core, Ford has forgotten that leadership is an obligation. As the mayor of a world class city, he had enormous power and influence. These come with great responsibility.

That leads to the lesson for all of us as leaders.  If you are a leader, or you aspire to lead, you must understand you are held to a higher standard of behavior – full stop. (click to Tweet)

One can’t simply live a life full of – as the saying goes – drugs, sex and rock and roll. You have an obligation to be a role model, and to avoid destructive, gratuitous behavior that can undermine confidence in you and the organization you lead.

As a result, to be a great leader you need:

  1. Discipline
  2. Consistency
  3. Self-control

Although the full details of Ford’s various misdeeds have yet to come out, he has clearly engaged in highly destructive personal behavior. He has been forced to admit he abuses alcohol, and that he has driven while under the influence. Court documents seem to strongly imply that the problem Ford had with booze likely extended to hard drugs.

You simply cannot engage in that kind of behavior and be seen as a credible leader. That’s the price of leadership. It’s time that Mr. Ford comes to terms with this and makes the right decision for his own health and the reputation of the city he leads.

What lessons do you think leaders can learn from the Rob Ford saga?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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