Glenn Williams

by Glenn Williams


The failure of success

When working as an executive in the U.S, I experienced the early, unsettling days of the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008/09.

I saw the collapse of the housing market, severe falls on Wall Street, companies letting go thousands of employees, and many major financial institutions filing for bankruptcy or being acquired by those in a stronger position. Headlines were dominated by the fall of Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Countrywide Financial, the Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, and AIG.

Everybody seemed to be blaming somebody else. We didn’t want to admit our failures were due to a lack of character. In What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Michael Sandel says –

The era of market triumphalism has come to an end. The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently. It also prompted a widespread sense that markets have become detached from morals and that we need somehow to reconnect them.[i]

What we do know is that successful people and successful companies can come undone through a lack of character. High profile examples include: Rupert Murdoch’s ‘News of the World’ phone hacking scandal; Jeff Skilling, CEO of the Enron Corporation, was convicted for hiding billions of dollars in 2001; in 2005, Dennis Kozlowskis (CEO) and Mark Schwartz (CFO) of the Tyco Corporation were jailed for similar crimes; corruption at the FIFA board level; and more recently, the Volkswagon emissions scandal.

None of us, however, are immune to moral failure or lapses in judgment, and sometimes it is closer than we think. For this reason alone, it is important to define what you are looking for in leaders when recruiting them, and what you expect from them once they are employed.

In determining leadership potential and which candidates were most likely to succeed as leaders, the IBM Executive School discovered that while there was no commonality between skills and knowledge, there was commonality between values and attitudes.[ii]

While competency is extremely important, the issue we appear to be grappling with the most, is character. André Delbecq alludes to this when he examines – “the failure of success, the corruption of triumph, and the danger of celebrity.”[iii]

If character is going to play ‘second fiddle’ to competency, organizations and leaders will continue to feel increasingly vulnerable. It is the reason why LCP Global defines building resilient character as one of its competencies in the 5 leadership anchors™.

What’s the bottom-line?

First, we must seek change in ourselves that is consistent with what we expect of other leaders. Ask yourself –

  • Do I expect of myself what I expect of others?
  • When I recruit people, do I value both competency and character?
  • Do I affirm and reward others for their contribution to building a culture where people flourish, not just rewarding them for their achievements?
  • Am I willing to be accountable to for my actions?

[i] Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (London, England: Penguin Books, 2012), 6.


[iii] Andre L. Delbecq, “The Spiritual Challenges of Power, Humility, and Love as Offsets to Leadership Hubris,” The Virtuous Organization: Insights from Some of the World’s Leading Management Thinkers, eds. Charles C. Manz et al., (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2008), 97.


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