Home >

Dedication to Cause as Justification

Leaders sometimes use their dedication to the cause to justify inappropriate behavior, and then construe a challenge to their behavior as an attack on the cause. Leaders may come to consider their own welfare so critical to the success of the organization that they justify anything they do for themselves, regardless of its appropriateness, on the grounds that it enables them to better serve the organization. Financial improprieties and misuse of the organization’s resources are particularly prone to this type of justification.

Failure to maintain the boundary between the self and the organization or cause is one of the most dangerous confusions of identity a leader can experience. This is especially true when the leader is the founder of the organization, and the group itself confuses the identities of the leader and the organization. A courageous follower can approach this situation in several ways:

At a functional level, we must try to help the leader see the consequences of her behavior and how it is hurting the very cause that represents her life’s work.

At a deeper level, we can try to help the leader identify her underlying needs and find ways of satisfying these that are more appropriate than her existing behavior.

At the most profound level, we may need to encourage the leader to reclaim her own identity and separate it from the organization or cause.

There are times when a leader’s identity is so completely immersed in the organization or cause that transformation is not possible; you cannot change something that you cannot find. In this situation, the leader must reclaim some of her independent identity as a prerequisite to change. A radical shift of environment, activity, power relationships, and focus, even for just a month, may create the fresh perspective needed. Opportunities for a leader to take a break that will help reestablish her boundaries with the organization include:

a senior executive development program at a prestigious school or one of the better, transformationally oriented management institutions;

an extended family vacation, far from the seat of her power, at the urging of family and friends;

an appointment to a demanding public-service position that engages the leader differently for a period;

a sabbatical to write, research, or rejuvenate;

a spiritual retreat at a center maintained for these purposes by the leader’s religious denomination, or at one of a growing number of nondenominational spiritual retreat facilities;

a residential rehabilitation facility if substance dependency has entered the picture.

Sometimes senior executives arrange these breaks for themselves by having heart attacks or other life-threatening problems that motivate them to review their values and open themselves to transformation. Courageous followers provide gentler alternatives for leaders to step back and reclaim important parts of themselves.