Immoral But Effective Leaders


Can there be immoral yet effective leaders? Yes, you can be immoral and still be an effective leader… at least for a while. However, this is usually not sustainable and will eventually catch up with those breaching moral guidelines. Unless you are a politician, it is usually only a matter of time before immoral behavior catches up with leaders who partake. It is “business or political karma.”

We must clarify the terms to get extremely precise in what we are discussing. To begin with, mortality is nothing more than the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. On the other hand, effective is simply being successful in producing a desired or intended result. So if we take the original question and rephrase it to align with our definitions, we would get something like this; “Can a leader successfully produce the desired result by deliberately doing something wrong?”

The answer is emphatic, yes, and it does not take much looking to find examples. However, it is noted that this type of behavior is usually a gamble for those who roll the dice, and the rewards rarely appear to outweigh the consequences. Furthermore, immoral behavior is neither a long-term solution nor an enduring practice.

Finishing an audit on time without checking the requested items would be a great example. While you have completed the task on time, you haven’t exactly fulfilled the purpose of said task. You may be a hero for a while, having made the deadline, but what happens when something is wrong, and the audit doesn’t catch it? Eventually, it will be discovered and narrowed down to the audit and the auditor. It will then be found that the integrity of the audit had been compromised due to the immoral behavior of the auditor. Cause and Effect and Occam’s Razor suggest that the ending result will not be good for the auditor.

This is just an example, of course, and it should be noted that there are far more extreme examples that could be considered or used. The point is that immoral behavior usually cannot endure, and eventually, someone will find out. You could be effective for a while, but this is temporary, especially if you have any level of oversight to contend with. That being said, the length of the rope you hang yourself with gets longer the higher in an organization you find yourself.

I would take it further by using the old analogy, “The higher you go, the harder you fall.” This, of course, is because the higher in the organization you find yourself, the greater the risks, the greater the penalties, and the greater the overall repercussions of such behaviors. Classic examples of this would include Enron or even Wall Street in general.

In the end, I see it like this: immoral behavior can shine a light on you as an effective leader for simply being so effective in the first place. But this effectiveness came about because of a cheat, and with any light comes the ability of those holding that light to scrutinize. Those in oversight positions will seek those deemed effective and begin observing or examining that success. In the end, the truth comes with close enough examination and enough light. Cheaters are usually caught. Just something to think about when you are faced with an opportunity to betray the trust of those who rely upon you.