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When Leaders Think It's All About Them


A sense of self-aggrandizement often afflicts people of influence; Two cases in point: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Reverend Jeremiah Wright

Posted on Leadership at Work: May 1, 2008 9:38 AM

Two prominent men are on publicity tours this week. Both are individuals of great accomplishment, one in law the other in religion. However, both suffer from a sense of self-aggrandizement that afflicts people of influence. They are Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Scalia is promoting a new book and Wright is trying to salvage his public image. Let's take them one at a time.

Scalia, as reported by Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio, has until recently eschewed the limelight. With the publication of his new book, he is breaking that tradition, appearing on 60 Minutes and doing other book-related events. That is his right. However, when asked by Totenberg about televising the hearings of the Supreme Court (they are available in audio only), Scalia said that he was against it and one reason is that "It's my voice. It's my face." Therefore he had a right to use each as he saw fit. As an officer of the highest court, he should know better, far better. As a private citizen, he can control his image; as a public official, doing the people's work, those rights do not apply.

Wright is the retired pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and is the man who baptized and mentored Barack Obama. Wright believes that the church should be an instrument of social change. Under that banner, he has said things from the pulpit that have shocked many Americans. Some of these comments have found their way onto the Internet and are being used liberally, both in and out of context, by critics of the Obama campaign. In truth, these clips do not embody Wright's life work. He served six years in the military and he has been very active in the social justice movement. However, now that he is under scrutiny, he is says that those who criticize him are really criticizing the black church. In doing so, he distances himself from his controversial remarks by sheltering himself in his church.

Both Scalia and Wright, although of different political persuasions, have conflated their private views with their public personas in ways that do a disservice to their constituencies. Scalia uses the rights of privacy to argue for privacy in public proceedings, hence no television. Wright defuses attacks on comments he has made by hiding behind the traditional lack of understanding between blacks and whites.

When leaders get to the top, they are accountable for what they say and they do. Disguising personal personal views as public policy is disingenuous. It demonstrates a fundamental distrust in the very people they should be leading.

What do you think?

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