A Cautionary Tale for Leaders

A Cautionary Tale for Leaders

It was early December 2008 when I sat down at my computer and saw the breaking news about then-governor Rod Blagojevich’s arrest on corruption charges.

For the weeks leading up to the arrest, my husband, Eric, a law enforcement officer, had been more secretive than usual about his work. Typically, I have only a general idea about what he’s doing: “surveillance for a new case,” “meeting an informant,” “paperwork in the office.” Due to the sensitive nature of his work, he is unable to share the details of what he does, beyond what I might read online or see on television.

But in the months leading up to Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, I had no idea what occupied my husband’s time. He even specifically requested that I not ask him about his work. One Sunday morning, a week or so before the arrest, when he was working an extra shift, I read some news online about the governor being taped by John Wyma, a friend and fundraiser. I sent Eric a quick email with the news link: “Is this what you’re doing?” He never replied. Just a few days later, I learned that my husband was one of many asked to quietly assist in this foundation-shaking case.

For weeks, this story commanded the attention of people across Illinois and around the country. As Blagojevich prepares to release his book, The Governor, this week, I anticipate people turning to this story the same way that northbound traffic cranes to check out a southbound accident.

My prediction? This book will instead reinforce what most people already believe about Blagojevich. His jostling for this six-figure book deal is just the epilogue in a career of self-serving acts.

The criminal complaint against Blagojevich offers evidence of many times Blagojevich tried to use his political position for personal gain. In his attempt to fill Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat, he was recorded saying, “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I’m saying. And if I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself.”

The Blagojevich biography is a cautionary tale for leaders. While striving to provide health care for children and seniors, it appears that my former governor was simultaneously running the state like a mafia don.

Sure, there must have been some good in his political plans, but Rod Blagojevich was a leader who failed to keep his personal ambitions in proper perspective. All that he could gain as a “public servant” clearly clouded whatever service he might have otherwise intended.

If our desire to get supercedes our willingness to give, we may need to reevaluate our decisions and actions. Inherent in leadership is the power of influence and following, and it can cause great harm if corrupted. Political power and opportunity combined with ambition leads to disaster that no amount of media-manipulating and story-spinning will fix.

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission. 

Filed As:  Rod Blagojevich, Ambition

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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  • Thanks for sharing Becky. As I read your post I kept thinking, “But, was he really a leader?”
    Does a person get to be a leader simply but the position they have? Aren’t there lots of people who fill positions with the potential for leadership who never become leaders?
    My experience says “Yes”. I’ve seen many leaders arise without being in a “leadership position” and I’ve seen many people in leadership positions who didn’t provide any leadership.
    I’d say, people, not positions, make leaders.

  • I think Paul’s question is valid. The way I look at it, you must earn the title of leader. It isn’t grabbed or stolen. And those who abuse power or work to further themselves don’t deserve the title.
    We should reserve the title for those who do their best, those who do good, those who have willing followers. Just because someone is elected as a “leader” doesn’t mean they deserve to be called such.
    I wrote about this earlier this year in my column, and posted it on the blog:
    https://aspiretolead.blogspot.com/2009/09/stories-we-tell-ourselves-part-ii.html

  • I agree with both of you. Just having a position doesn’t make you a leader. However, I think that when we elect officials, we do it with an expectation that they WILL lead.

  • I’d say you get power from having a title, although not necessarily leadership.
    We elect officials to represent us and make decisions for us (or that will effect us), regarding both our freedom and our money.
    We invite them or permit them to communicate to us, to persuade us, to get us to believe something or take action.
    In that sense we give them the ability to try to lead. Whether or not they are considered leaders depends on how potential followers perceive their use of power.

  • Becky, as a resident of Illinois, like you, I’ve had a front row seat to the spectacle of Governor Rod Blagojevich.
    I think that the public does expect leadership from those who run for executive roles, like Governor or President. So the story of Blagojevich occurs as an abuse of power and the public trust.
    I absolutely agree that true leadership is a function of the person not the title. Actually, I find this encouraging, as a believer that you can lead from anywhere.

  • I agree. Yes, with everyone.
    I do think there are positions we elect people to where we expect leadership. That sets up the situations Peg presents where our expectation is abused.
    I like the “backward” way we are all actually defining leaders. Servant. Arise from any level. Have willing followers. Communicator. Persuader. Trustworthy.
    I also like the fact that we all seem to include the idea of “doing good” in our definition. I don’t know what the right word is for someone guiding people into evil, but I’d really rather not call them a leader.
    Leadership, to me, includes hope. I’d always rather be voting for something (hope) than voting against something. Bring on the leaders.

  • Hi Becky…
    What scares me, is that even after the truth was revealed, there are still those who would vote for him because “he got things done”. I heard a woman from Chicago on NPR (National Public Radio) say that she didn’t care how he got things done, as long as he made her life better. Scary.
    John

  • John, you’re right. Blagojevich may not have been a good leader, but he did have plenty of followers. Enough to elect him to Congress and then to the Governor’s office. Twice.

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