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Enabling Leadership Failure

On Weekly Leader podcast episode 64 this week, we had three college level leadership educators talking about a variety of subjects. During this leadership roundtable, our Weekly Leader team member Scott Allen, Ph.D., made a comment that really resonated with me. He said something along the lines of:

“For every bad behavior, there are individuals enabling it.”

Scott cites the examples of Tiger Woods (personal) and Enron (corporate) failures and specifically mentioned the film “The Smartest Guys in the Room.” This piqued my interest and since I hadn’t watched the film before I decided to check it out last night via Netflix on my iPad. Here’s the trailer:


If you are interested in the study of leadership and haven’t watched this documentary, you should. You can actually find it in 10 parts on YouTube (Part 1) although that viewing experience may not be the best. It’s an “old” story that we all know but there’s something incredibly powerful in seeing and hearing the people involved tell it.

Coming back to Scott’s comment, it’s mind-boggling how so many people and organizations played an active and/or passive role in enabling and supporting Enron’s behavior and ultimate leadership failure. While it’s easy to point the finger at the main bad actors (Chairman “Kenny Boy” Lay, CEO Jeff Skilling and CFO Andy Fastow), Enron’s corporate crimes could never have been perpetrated without the support of so many other individuals and organizations.  Here’s a video of Fastow’s deposition wherein he describes how banks were involved.


“The Smartest Guys in the Room” paints a bleak picture of corporate leadership in the c-suite. Was Enron simply a bad apple in the bunch or is this type of leadership behavior prevalent in more organizations than we imagine? We will never eliminate bad individual leadership behavior but how can we strengthen leadership at all levels in the organization and system in an attempt to check it?

About the author

Peter A. Mello, Founder/Editor Founder of Weekly Leader and Sea-Fever Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and strategic communications consultancy. Previously, CEO of an international nonprofit organization and COO of a national insurance/risk management services firm. Peter has been leading people and managing organizations for over 30 years, writes a leadership column for MarineNews magazine and blogs about maritime culture at Sea-Fever. Follow him on Twitter.

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