What do Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o have in common?
They didn’t own up; they tried to cover up.
In case you missed it, Manti Te’o is the All-American, star linebacker on Notre Dame’s football team, who was in the running this past year for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious award. Over an extended period, Te’o spoke of many heart-warming and heart-wrenching things in his life, including the death of his grandmother and a relationship he had with a girlfriend who was in a car accident, then suffered from leukemia and ultimately died, inspiring Te’o to more tackles on the field.
Problem was, the “girlfriend” didn’t exist.
Notre Dame carries the story that Te’o was the victim of a cruel hoax, an online relationship with someone he never actually met. Cruel hoax indeed.
But it appears to many that Te’o began to perpetuate that hoax at some point, though he didn’t start the story, continuing to embellish details because he was embarrassed by it and didn’t see how to stop.
But at twenty-two years old, he’s just a kid, right? Can’t we just overlook it?
Twenty-two is the average age of a U.S. Army Corporal stationed in Afghanistan.
Leaders encounter pressure and stress, and that’s what they need to prepare for.
Too many leaders and other role models today don’t own up to their mistakes. They deny, cover up, and hope to get away with it. After a while, the lie becomes so big there is no way out.
In the old model of leadership, leaders were always right, always in control, should never be questioned, and should never be seen breaking out in a sweat. Leaders could never admit making a mistake, lest it take them off their pedestal.
Never admit a mistake? No wonder we have so many scandals today. That’s pure fantasy.
Lesson learned: When you screw up, own up; don’t cover up.
People will likely forgive your screw-up if you own up. They are much less likely to forgive if you cover up.
Are people in your organization covering up, or owning up?
Have there been situations when you didn’t own up? What happened?
-Bob & Gregg Vanourek
Co-authors, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations