Leadership Gap Across The Board – Lessons From Donald Sterling

Enough has been said about Donald Sterling already. The real story for me is the widespread lapse of strong leadership within key organizations surrounding the Sterling controversy.

Sterling has a long-standing track record of discriminatory practices in his housing empire. He continues to make horribly disparaging comments about minorities and profoundly sexist proclamations about women even as he asks for our forgiveness for his behavior. The environment around him and his businesses has been toxic for years.

How Did This Situation Reach Such a Horrible Low Point?

Leaders of organizations such as the NAACP, Players Union, and the NBA League Office, NBA owners, Clipper’s senior management and many others failed to display true leadership. They failed to challenge his behavior and practices even though those practices were clearly harmful to the constituents these leaders are supposed to represent and protect.

We expect leaders to articulate and live by principles. True leadership involves visibly and actively standing by your principles and by the stakeholders you represent when you have something to lose by doing so. Employees and stakeholders of our organizations expect this. They NEED this in order to feel committed to an organization or cause.

But leaders in this case gave lip service to those principles and Sterling’s toxic pattern continued to grow unchecked. They started speaking up only after TMZ broke the story and put them on the spot by asking them to comment on the situation. That does not count as true leadership.

What is the Cost of so Many Leaders Giving Sterling a Pass?

It has cost millions of dollars of damage to the value of the Clipper’s franchise. It has left several organizations in turmoil and constituents feeling betrayed. And it has severely damaged the reputations of formerly well respected organizations and people. It will take a long time for them to regain respect and credibility.

Leadership Courage РThe Bedrock of  Success

Where in your firm are the leaders who are willing to step forward on behalf of their followers and your company knowing the personal heat they might endure? Seek them out, nurture them, and celebrate them. These people are the bedrock of your organization’s reputation, the magnets that attract quality customers and the role models who inspire employee loyalty and commitment within your company.