Being a leader means doing the right thing

By Larry Simoneaux

As a leader, you have to not only do the right thing, but be perceived to be doing the right thing. A consequence of seeking a leadership position is being put under intense public scrutiny, being held to high standards, and enhancing a reputation that is constantly under threat.”

— Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Ward.

The above is just one of many quotes I’ve found that describe what’s expected of those who become our leaders.

Like it or not, it’s a simple equation. If you’re in a position of authority, those below you have to believe in you. Have to have faith. Have to trust. Because, only then, does any system really work.

Allow even the whiff of doubt to begin as regards such belief in you and cynicism begins to creep in. Allow that cynicism to grow, and confidence begins to wither. As confidence dies, those same people soon begin wondering why they’re bothering to do the right thing at all. And that’s where things start to fall apart.

My experience is in uniform. In uniform, if there’s a bar fight, the responsibility ends up on the leader’s desk. If there’s an accident or an incident, same thing. Asleep when it happened — doesn’t matter. Nowhere near the scene — doesn’t matter. They didn’t follow your instructions — doesn’t matter.

You wanted the title, you got the rules — written and otherwise — that go with it. You’re going to be held to a higher standard than others at all times. It’s expected of you and you knew this going in.

The bottom line is that you’re responsible for anything that concerns the unit, the crew, and — most especially — your own behavior.

Locally, there’s a case of a Snohomish County District Court Judge who was stopped by a state trooper and arrested on suspicion of DUI. Briefly, and as noted in a recent Herald editorial:

The judge “was driving on the Bothell-Everett highway when a Washington State Patrol trooper noticed the car speeding and drifting outside its lane… the trooper noted that (the judge) early on told him that he was a judge. A second trooper was wisely asked to observe.

The troopers noted (the judge’s) bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the strong odor of alcohol. (The judge) said he drank one beer with a fellow judge. He refused field-sobriety tests and later refused breath and/or blood tests.

Deputy prosecutor Erin Norgaard wrote that while it appears (the judge) lied about his alcohol consumption, (he reportedly had two glasses of wine instead of one beer) it is unlikely that he would be found guilty of drunken driving.”

And, so, the King County deputy prosecutor declined to press charges.

Which neither looks good nor sits well with many in the public. Which fails to address the observed (and, reportedly, recorded) erratic driving. And which doesn’t square up well with the opening quote of this piece regarding leaders being held to a higher standard.

All of which has led to letters from readers such as the one from Lee Fowble who noted a passage from a George Orwell novel which stated that “All animals are equal, some are just more equal than others.”

And the one from Richard Quint who wondered if a regular citizen would have any luck in ducking a DUI charge by having a “co-worker” vouch for your sobriety “regardless of other indicators.”

Or the statement from reader Jeff Swanson who opined that it all “goes to show that our judicial system is completely broken.”

Cynicism. Lack of trust. Lost faith. It’s all there and it’s not what we need.

I wasn’t there that night so I can’t provide explain it all, but experienced troopers were. The camera was. The judge was.

There’s a bottom to this story and it’d be reassuring were it to eventually end in such a manner as to reinforce the trust and faith we, as a society, want to have in those we look upon as our leaders rather than diminish it.

So, while hoping for this to happen, I’ll fall back on the one thing that I do know regarding incidents like this.

A good leader does the right thing. Always and everywhere. Regardless of the consequences.

Simply because it’s what’s expected of them.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to