My alma mater was recently in the news, and not in a good way. The chancellor of the University of California at Davis was placed on administrative leave on April 27 pending an investigation into several questionable issues concerning her leadership:
- Her daughter-in-law, who reports directly to one of her staff members, received pay increases of more than $50,000 over a 2½ year period.
- She approved a title change and a pay increase of more than 20% for her daughter-in-law’s supervisor.
- The program her son works in was placed under the supervision of her daughter-in-law.
I don’t know what the outcome of the investigation at Davis will be, but the situation does illustrate an important reality of leadership. Whether leaders want to be or not, they are symbols for the people and the organizations that they lead. Leaders establish and embody values for those they are leading. When those values are solid, they help to create a strong organization. When the values are weak, they can threaten the very existence of the organization. This doesn’t mean that leaders have to be perfect. They can’t be. But it does mean that when leaders fall short of the values they and their organizations stand for, they must acknowledge the failure and take whatever action is necessary to rectify the situation, even if that means surrendering their position.
Conventional leadership often overemphasizes results at the expense of values. The reasoning is that strong results are worth sacrificing a few values. Unfortunately ignoring values is a fatal leadership mistake. Results are important but, without strong values, leaders will not continue to be leaders for very long. Even if they retain their positions, they will lose the respect of those they are leading. Extraordinary leaders, on the other hand, while certainly understanding the importance of good results, also recognize their critical role as leaders to promote and exemplify values that will keep their organizations strong. Those values are likely what will ensure that there is an organization for them to lead.