Greg Mortenson- What to do When We Discover Our Leaders are Flawed

How do we respond when we discover that leaders whom we admire are not what we thought?  What happens to the good work done when a leader is shown to be flawed or corrupt?  Moreover, what does our response say about us and our commitment to our own values?

By now, the news of Greg Mortenson’s expose’ by 60 Minutes is all over the web.   And for those who eye CBS’ journalistic style with suspicion, there is a more penetrating case made by Jon Krakauer in his e-book Three Cups of Deceit.  Mortensen’s initial response has been to go on the offensive, but with little data to back up his position and a set of statements designed more to absolve him of responsibility than prove innocence.

The gauntlet has been thrown down and the battle lines drawn.  But as with any battle there will be collateral damage.  In this case, the damage will be not only to the Central Asia Institute (Mortenson’s charitable organization).  It will be to similar organizations to which donations will likely fizzle.  It is impossible to predict a number, but there are girls who will not be educated in Afghanistan- each of which represents a brick remaining in the 6th century wall of cultural ignorance.

How do we respond to a role model who is not only found to have feet of clay, but to be fast and loose with facts and other people’s money?  No doubt much of the world be focused on retribution, blame and the outrage at feeling duped, which will likely require ritual razing of the Central Asia Institute’s headquarters and some form of public castigation for those involved.  Yet even Krakauer says in the 60 Minutes interview that Mortensen “…is not Bernie Madoff.  Let’s be clear.  He has done a lot of good.  He has helped thousands of schoolkids in Pakistan and Afghanistan… Nevertheless he is threatening to bring it all down… by this fraud and by these lies.”

I am personally saddened by this revelation.  I have admired and written about Mortenson’s story on this blog and in other venues.  So I feel somewhat embarrassed and exposed.  Nothing in my leadership studies has led me to a framework or tool for an issue like this- so I have chosen to go where I often suggest leaders I coach to go for wisdom- my own values.

Whether Mortenson expanded on he truth and how much are not important to me.  I was enamored of the Mortenson who was dedicated to seeing girls get educated in a land where it may be their only hope.  That hope is what I choose to focus my energy on.   I will see to it that Entelechy Partners will fund as many loans that support independence and education for women and girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, through our KIVA micro finance team, as we can find.