Friday, January 28, 2011

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 8.) The need for a system of "checks and balances"

This is Part 8 of "How the Mighty Fail", based on my book "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines"  I'd like to suggest you read the first six parts and then this installement, otherwise you may miss the context.
The third component of the "Toxic Triangle" ("Conducive Environment" continued)

C. – Conducive environment: Clericalism and the Absence of checks and balances

Organizations need “checks and balances”

Strong organizations (and nations) tend to have strong institutions and strong countervailing centers of power. Before the American constitution was written, traditional governments stood on three foundations: the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the established church. The framers of the US constitution could see that many governments, based on the aforementioned pillars, were capable of oppressing the many for the sake of an elite few.

Societies are capable of self-government but most of them need some mechanism of checks and balances to save the members from the ravages of greed and ambition. Machiavelli showed us how a clever “prince” with unrestrained ambition could manipulate power for his own ends. The American constitution is designed to provide an intricate system of “checks and balances,” with different parts of the government serving to check other parts in order to sustain a balance between opposing tendencies.

Governments or organizations without such a system of dynamic balance can make it easy for individuals or parties to usurp power. That’s why large corporations require an independent board to provide oversight – a system of checks and balances.

Leaders need “checks and balances”

No doubt, leaders need discretion to do their jobs. But, unchecked discretion allows destructive leaders to abuse their power. Because young, high-growth, rapidly transforming, and smaller organizations tend to have limited mechanisms for governance a dysfunctional leader can wreak havoc. Such, I suggest, was the case with the Legion of Christ and its founder Fr. Marcial Maciel.

The less supervision there is the easier it is for the “dark side” of a leader to emerge. Various researchers suggest these conditions characterized Enron at the height of its popularity on Wall Street. In my opinion, the Vatican which regulates organizations of religious and priests within the Catholic Church did not have a transparent system of checks and balances to effectively supervise and manage the Legion of Christ and its founder Fr. Maciel. During the clerical confusion which reigned in Mexico following the Revolution and the Cristero War (with many Mexican Bishops in exile in the US,) Fr. Maciel was able to play “both ends against the middle.”

Churches need “checks and balances”

The Founder was ordained a priest by one of his uncles. It is not at all clear that he studied the curriculum of studies required for ordination as a Catholic priest. He had already been expelled from a reputable seminary but that didn’t deter him or his patrons.

Most, if not all, his early activities took place under the radar of the institutional Church. From his early twenties on he basically was able to do as he pleased. It had to be relatively easy taking his first followers from Mexico to Spain to Rome to avoid supervision by the “hierarchy.” He was an effective and charismatic fund-raiser and in a remarkably short period of time he had established his major seminary in Rome. He won the support and affection of Popes, Cardinals and influential lay people who, because of his obvious “success” never stopped to do a background check on his “credentials.”

A culture of apathy seems to have held sway at the Vatican where all power is essentially centralized in the person of the Holy Father. Fr. Maciel was able to thrive in this system of centralized governance once he had been accepted by the inner circle of powerful Cardinals. No doubt they shared his vision, his zeal for the Church, and were impressed by the amazing success of his foundation. Such an ethos, without the support of structures based on autonomous “political’ units,(to provide checks and balances) allowed Fr. Maciel to concentrate his power, create total dependence amongst his followers, suppress dissidence and suppress any opposition to his methods. (Legionaries made a private vow never to criticize a superior - and to inform the superior general (Fr. Maciel) if they heard any criticism.)

To my mind, the absence of checks and balances to control the management of a religious order within the Church and the clericalism dominant at the Vatican and amongst the hierarchy are contributing factors to the “conducive environment” which forms the third leg of the toxic triangle that came together for Fr. Maciel..

For instance,why did the Vatican approve the private vows? If the "authorities" did not know about the private vows, why not? By the time I left the organization in 1982, the Legion was well established in Mexico, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and in three dioceses in the United States. How come no one in "authority" (local Bishops, pastors etc.) seemed to be aware of some obvious organizational dysfunction in the Legion? My guess is that lots of them noticed features that gave cause for concern - but they did little or nothing about it. Why? I suspect it was because of the absence of an effective system of checks and balances combined with a lack of communication between different jurisdictions.

Next - How our brains are wired: the influence of biology on leadership; an explanation of why some leaders can be dysfunctional.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 7)

3. – Contributing Environment
    The third component of the "Toxic Triangle"

This is Part 7 of "How the Mighty Fail", based on "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines"  I'd like to suggest you read the first six parts and then this installement. One builds upon the other.
The impact of culture on Fr. Maciel

For the past many years authors on cross-cultural communication, such as Geert Hofstede, Edmund Hall, and Fons Trompenaars have illustrated how cultural differences affect our behavior. Their work has provided us with the intellectual framework, the specific terms and the dimensions of culture to open our eyes to the differences in behavior, communication, and management style which are influenced by culture. In my own work as a management consultant with multicultural leadership teams, I often start by helping team members examine the values, beliefs and assumptions of their own native culture before they try to understand a different culture.

It is important to learn how geography, history and religion impact our values, beliefs and assumptions which, in turn, shape the characteristic behavior of a group. This "characteristic behavior" is what I mean by culture. Participants build a model to understand the dimensions of their own culture using the framework of values, beliefs, and assumptions.  When this is done they move on to examine the points of convergence and divergence with the other cultures represented in the team. The point is to learn to recognize and respect the differences. Only then can the team begin to “reconcile the dilemmas” – as advocated by Trompenaars – which can arise from the clash of cultural differences.

The Dutch researcher Hofstede designed a framework of cultural differences using four “Cultural Dimensions.” 

1.    Uncertainty avoidance:
This indicates the extent to which a society feels threatened by ambiguous situations. It ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. In uncertainty avoidance cultures, people tend to minimize the possibility of novel, unknown, or surprising situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures. On the philosophical and religious level there is a belief about truth:  ‘there can only be one Truth and we have it’.

Mexico’s highest Hofstede dimension is Uncertainty Avoidance (82). This score suggests the ultimate goal is to control everything in order to eliminate or avoid the unexpected. As a result, on a deep cultural level, Mexicans do not readily accept change and is very risk adverse.

The Legion of Christ, founded by Fr. Maciel, was a total "uncertainty avoidance" culture. There was only one truth without tolerance of ambiguity; every aspect of member's lives was totally regulated by a compendium of strict rules and norms. In addition, all members made a solemn promise never, ever to criticize any Superior (including Fr. Maciel) and to report all transgressions directly to him.

2.    Individualism and its opposite collectivism:
This dimension indicates the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. Some cultures foster loose ties: everyone is expected to look after themselves and their immediate family. Collectivist cultures tend to integrate people into strong, cohesive in-groups. For instance, often the extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) continue protecting family members in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. Such cultures prefer strong leaders to bring people together, in part to absolve the members of working out conflicts directly and to provide solidarity and group identity.

Mexico is a collectivist culture. This is manifest in a close long-term commitment to the member 'group', be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty is paramount, and is more important than most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

During my time with Fr. Maciel's organization, it reflected some of the traits of a collectivist culture. Loyalty to the founder was a sine qua non. This created a certain lack of mutual trust among the members which negatively impacted their interpersonal relationships. The organization was entirely inward looking. Contact with "outsiders" was strictly regulated and discouraged unless it served to further the aims of the organization.

3.    Power distance:
This refers to the difference in authority, status, and privilege between individuals. Followers in high Power Distance cultures, especially those with low educational levels and big differences in wealth distribution, are more tolerant of the power imbalances that are associated with tyranny and despotism.

Mexico ranks higher than other Latin neighbors in Power Distance (a rank of 81, compared to an average of 70.) This means that the population is more inclined to accept a high level of inequality of power and wealth within the society.

In the Legion of Christ we were trained to accept, without question, the "power" and authority of Fr. Maciel.

4.    Masculinity:
Masculinity and its opposite, Femininity, refer to the distribution of roles between male and female values. The women in “feminine” countries have the same modest, caring values as the men. In the “masculine” countries women are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men. Hence these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values.

Mexico has the second highest Masculinity ranking in Latin America. This suggests the Mexican culture experiences a higher degree of gender differentiation of roles. A significant portion of the society and power structure is dominated by men. This situation allows a female population to become more assertive and competitive, although not at the level of the male population. I think this dimension is less relevant to an analysis of Maciel's leadership.

In my experience of the Legion of Christ I have no doubt that "sentimentalism" and "emotions" were not encouraged. Our lives were governed by the dictates of our "character," our reason, and strict adherence to a very detailed set of rules and regulations.

In cultures that are high on the avoidance of uncertainty, more collectivist (as opposed to individualism), and tending towards high power distance, “dark leaders” are likely to find a more propitious environment than they might encounter in the “opposite” cultures.

The Hofstede Model of Cultural Dimensions is useful for classifying the differences between the cultures of different countries. However, it is important to remember that these “Dimensions” are generalizations. The average score attributed to a country does not relate to individuals of that country. Therefore, not all individuals or even regions within a country fit into the model. As always, there are exceptions to the rule.

I use the model to suggest the possible impact of Mexican culture, as classified by Hofstede, to shed some light on the early leadership style of Fr. Maciel.  Maciel was born and raised in the Mexican State of Michoacán, in the center west of the Mexican Republic.  Hofstede’s cultural dimensions are not a “law set in stone.”  However, the culture in which we grow up certainly affects our leadership style - and Fr. Maciel was raised in the cultural framework described above. Understanding the framework can shed some light on his leadership style. Culture does not produce "better" or "worse" leaders. No matter their native culture, all leaders, are vulnerable to the "dark side" of their personalities which can come to the fore in times of frustration and stress

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 6)

3. – Contributing Environment
    The third component of the "Toxic Triangle"

During times of instability and change, “followers” are more likely to accept an assertive leader.  When a group feels threatened and a leader emerges, the individual followers may not notice the characteristics of the leader which otherwise might be a cause for concern or alarm. Those who become aware of the negative traits may choose to minimize or ignore them because they believe in the leader’s vision

For instance when a group of people feels mistreated or threatened, they seek to find an assertive leader who can help remedy the wrong or mitigate the threat.  The greater the threat the more easily followers overlook the leader’s faults. A leader usually “emerges” to solve a problem. We thus have political, military, labor, religious, and social leaders.  Depending on the magnitude of the perceived “problem” that needs to be solved, a leader can enhance his or her power by advocating radical change to resolve the threat, right a wrong, or restore order.

The perception of threat is all that is needed.  Objective threats are not necessary. Politicians of all stripes manage perceived threat (weapons of mass destruction, cost of healthcare, budget deficits, and etc.)  Corporate leaders often frame the company’s “competition” as the “enemy” in order to strengthen their power and motivate followers.

Within an organization closed to external scrutiny the dysfunctional traits of a leader’s personalities are easier to hide.  For instance in a cult, a shrewd leader has more opportunities to can exploit unsuspecting followers.

In unstable situations, we are more likely to grant more authority to the leader because we know that instability demands decisive action. “Decisive action” sometimes means unilateral decision making.  History shows just how hard it can be to revoke authority when the leader becomes a dictator.

Was there a “conducive environment” in which my former CEO emerged as a leader and founded his organization?

The Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War

The Mexican Revolution in 1910 had a huge impact on the Catholic Church in Mexico. It affected Catholic how Catholics perceived themselves and how they were perceived. One of the consequences was so-called “Cristero War” a conflict between the revolutionary Mexican state and Catholics during the 1920s. It was in the aftermath of this revolt that Maciel founded his Legion. Over the years the Mexican governments have positioned the events as the Mexican Revolution defending itself against a reactionary clergy in cahoots with pre-revolutionary elites, both of which were trying to block progress and justice and were willing to invoke foreign intervention.

By 1940, the Catholic Church in Mexico had no legal corporate standing. It had been stripped of its real estate and had no schools, monasteries or convents. Clergy were forbidden to wear clerical garb. They were not allowed to celebrate public religious ceremonies. They could not hold a passport, nor had they the right to vote.  Foreign priests were not allowed to enter the country. The Church had no access to defend itself in the courts of law. These prohibitions presented a constant threat although some of them were ignored by both Church and State. Virulent anti-clericalism that has seldom been surpassed in any country was one of the most important results of the Revolution. Fr. Maciel was born in 1920.

The Cristero war started in 1926 and continued until 1929. The uprising, against the Mexican Government, was sparked by the on-going persecution of the Mexican Catholics who formed the majority of the population.  The rebels called themselves “Cristeros” because they felt they were fighting for Christ.
Jesus Degollado Guizar was perhaps their most brilliant general.  This itinerant salesman of pharmaceutical products before the rebellion was Fr. Maciel’s great uncle. The two other top generals were simple priests. The army numbered 50,000 when it seemed on the brink of victory.

Other than at the very beginning, they the Cristeros were not supported by the Mexican Bishops. There were 38 Mexican Bishops at the time of the Cristero War. Seven of them supported it. Most of the country’s bishops were in exile in the U.S. at the time. The Holy See which had spoken out against the regime in Mexico City did not support them although it seems the Vatican never condemned their war. Fr. Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi (Kingdom of Christ) Movement, was related to four bishops Luis Guízar Barragán, Antonio Guízar y Valencia, José González Arias, and Rafael Guízar Valencia.  Bishop Guizar is now a canonized saint of the Catholic Church. The Cristeros believed they were a Christian nation, the “Kingdom of Christ,” for which they were shedding their blood.

In 1927 a deal, fatal to the Cristeros, was reached between Church and State. Insofar as the bishops and Holy See went the route they did, instead of supporting the Cristeros, it could be said the peasant-warriors were betrayed by the very men for whom they fought. The documents embodying the “arrangements” between Church and State were signed in Mexico City on June 21, 1929. As for the Cristeros, Gen. Jesus Degollado (Fr. Maciel's great uncle) sent a last-minute, desperate telegram to the Pope: “In grief we approach Your Holiness humbly imploring words to guide us in our present situation and not to forget your faithful sons.” The telegram was never answered. 

The Mexican Bishops agreed to the resumption of public worship. The Mexican government declared, (only verbally,) that the Constitution of 1917, the supreme law of the land, would stand, but its anti-Catholic provisions would no longer be enforced. 

The Cristero story is further complicated by the interactions with the US Government of the time, the US Bishops, the Knights of Columbus, Protestantism, and Freemasonry. An article which I have found useful in terms of background analysis and from which I have drawn for my own analysis of the “contributing environment” is entitled Valor and Betrayal. It is well worth a read.  (To be continued...)

Friday, January 21, 2011

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 5)


2. - Susceptible Followers
      The Second component of the Toxic Triangle

Why did I, and my peers, trust and remain loyal to Fr. Maciel for so many years?

The experience of crisis in their relationship with their leader often turns the worldview of the followers upside down, especially when hidden facets of their leader’s personality are revealed. That is what is happening now to those who joined the Legion or Regnum Christi in good faith. The realization of deception by the Founder is extremely painful. In “
Driving Straight on Crooked Lines” I describe my personal experience, following a leader who I think epitomizes many of the traits of a destructive leader. At the beginning, I did not know Fr. Maciel was “destructive.”  Indeed, I had no idea what constituted “destructive leadership.”

I believe it is important to analyze Fr. Maciel’s observable traits in order to derive useful learning outcomes. Perhaps we can learn to identify and be aware of the “dark side” of our own personalities which emerge in times of stress and frustration. If we can understand the characteristics of destructive leadership we are better equipped not to follow them. It is too easy to dismiss Fr. Maciel’s dysfunctional leadership as being the “work of the devil.” I think there is a rational explanation to explain how he damaged so many people. We may want to make sure that we don’t fall into the same trap again..


Hogan and his fellow researchers point out the role of “followers” is pivotal in the leadership process. Yet followers have been studied less often than leaders.. It would help if we knew why they consent to, or be unable to resist, the allure of a destructive leader.

Individuals whose beliefs are consistent with those of a destructive leader are likely to commit to his or her cause.

1.They need safety, security, group membership, and predictability in an uncertain world
2.Some followers actually benefit from destructive activities and thus contribute to the toxic vision of the leader
3.Needs for social order, cohesion, identity, and the coordination of collective activity can be found at the group level
4.There is a natural tendency for people to obey authority figures, imitate higher-status individuals, and conform to group norms.

According to Hogan, followers can be divided into two groups: conformers and colluders.

Both types are motivated by self-interest, but their concerns are different:

1.Conformers, may be individuals who may have unmet basic needs, negative self-evaluations, and psychological immaturity comply out of fear. They try to minimize the consequences of not going along.
2.Colluders, who may be ambitious, selfish and share the destructive leader's world views, actively participate in the leader's agenda; they seek personal gain.

Other factors may support the emergence of “susceptible followers.”

The “needs” of the followers
The basic needs of followers must be met before their higher aspirations can be engaged. As I look back on many of the first “followers” to join the Apostolic School of Fr. Maciel and his Legionaries of Christ in their pre-teens or early adolescence, I think it obvious that Fr. Maciel was catering to their "needs." Most of them came from poor, rural backgrounds first in Mexico, later in Spain. Fr. Maciel persuaded the families to allow these young men to join his endeavor by promising education, training, a sense of community, and the satisfaction of belonging to an "elite" group of future priests.

Poor self-esteem
People form basic conclusions about themselves concerning their sense of satisfaction with their lives, their jobs, their motivations and their productivity. Perhaps the first "Apostolic Boys" had not yet come to these conclusions because they were so young. But their parents had.

Those with low self-esteem often wish to become more “desirable,” which prompts them to identify with charismatic leaders. Indeed, low self-esteem serves to distinguish followers from leaders.

A second conclusion we form about ourselves relates to our sense of self-worth in terms of our ability to perform well. The image we form of our worth influences the decisions we make about what activities to undertake and how much effort to spend on them.

The third concept we create about ourselves relates to whether we come to believe that we are masters of our own fate or that outcomes are determined by external factors. The latter belief is not conducive to considering oneself as a leader. Individuals who feel that external factors control their destiny (a belief greatly influenced by the culture in which we are raised,) are easier to manipulate. They can be attracted to others who seem powerful and willing to care for them.  For instance, I suspect that the notion that God might be calling one to be a priest, or to join a religious order, is related is a manifestation of an “external factor” (God, Providence) which a person believes can control his or her destiny.

Persons lacking a firm sense of self may be more inclined to identify with cultural heroes and to internalize the values of the “hero.” A person who is psychologically mature is less likely to be attracted to a destructive leader.  Conversely, psychologically immature individuals may be more likely to unquestioningly accept “authority.”

When a leader, or an organization, offers opportunities for personal gain – profit, education, prestige – ambitious colluders are easy enough to recruit. This dynamic is a function of our need to acquire and serves to attract us to a leader and an organization. The most ambitious followers will sometimes seek to get ahead without regard to the human cost.

Goal Alignment
The closer the leader is to the follower's self-concept, the stronger the bond and the greater the motivation to follow. Hence, when we find a leader with a vision and a worldview congruent with our own, we are more likely to follow. The more closely we pattern our behavior to that of the leader, the more we boost our own sense of worth and the more we bond emotionally. “Transformational” leaders align the goals of the leader and the followers.

Followers who share a leader’s worldview and values will be more inclined to follow him or her. A destructive leader who is greedy and selfish will tend to attract greedy and selfish followers. These followers will engage in destructive behavior, especially if they feel that it is encouraged or sanctioned by the leader.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RTE documentary "Unspeakable Crimes" worth watching

A documentary aired on Ireland’s RTE on January 17, 2010, reveals the contents of a confidential letter from the Apostolic Nuncio to the Bishops of Ireland. The program claims that, on at least two occasions, the Vatican stepped in and stopped attempts by Irish bishops to defrock abuser priests. Details of one of those occasions was made public when an Irish  High Court order finally allowed the full publication of a previously censored chapter in the Murphy Report on the Dublin Archdiocese.

The documentary, called "Unspeakable Crimes" which is available online, is compelling. It's very powerful without being strident. The reporting is not at all "sensationalist"- indeed, the program offers a balanced, and respectful approach.

In my opinion it sheds new, positive light on the attitude of the Irish Bishops, showing up the "clericalism" emanating from the Vatican. It also provides an encouraging perspective on the first years of Pope Benedict XVI. The program concludes that there may, finally, be a slight, hopeful, shift in the Vatican’s focus towards the victims of clergy abuse.

The program is s 42 minutes long; I heartily recommend viewing it. Marcial Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ are mentioned.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 4)

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”
                                  - General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

This is Part 4 of "How the Mighty Fail", based on "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines"  I'd like to suggest you read the first three parts and then this installement. One builds upon the other.


Narcissism is closely linked to charisma and the personalized use of power. It is correlated with destructive leadership. Narcissists share some of the following traits:

1. Dominance

2. Grandiosity

3. Arrogance

4. Entitlement

5. Selfish pursuit of pleasure.

My CEO was dogged for years by allegations that he sexually molested young men entrusted to his care, had affairs with women and was a drug addict. He was a world traveler, much of his travel apparently more related to his own pleasure than the pursuit of his organizational goals. He evaded sanction thanks in large part to the privileged status granted him by the late Pope John Paul II, orchestrated by influential supporters in the Vatican. Think of the Pope as the “Chairman of the Board” for the sake of this business-case. Only in 2006 did John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI, discipline my former by boss – who by then was 85 years old.

During my time with him, he rarely showed vulnerability, and I don’t think he fully recognized the shortcomings of his personality, and therefore didn’t deal well with his dark side. He showed signs of an exaggerated sense of self-worth, he was quite convinced of his uniqueness, and he sought the admiration from those around him. Every request he made had to be taken care of immediately. Dealing with such a self-absorbed individual was tiring and emotionally draining. The narcissist doesn’t really care about you, so you have to put your personal needs on hold.

I suspected my boss’s excessive self-belief might have led him close to some psychopathic form of narcissism, where he couldn’t live without constant admiration. A leader, who has derailed, believing in his own ‘infallibility’ can lead his followers over a cliff, even when they’ve received warnings from others. My boss never tolerated challenges to his leadership. He acted as if he were irreplaceable. The individuals whom he groomed to be directors and managers weren’t usually the most personable or talented individuals. He picked them based on their piety and unquestioning acceptance of his authority. He surrounded himself with people who thought he was unparalleled.

Robert Hogan and his associates mention other contributing factors to destructive leadership. These include parental discord, low socioeconomic status, paternal criminality, maternal psychiatric disorder, and child abuse - common themes for exploitive adults.

Childhood hardships, in the makeup of the destructive leader can also lead to an “ideology of hate.” This may be the case of those whose self-hatred is turned outwards.

Monday, January 10, 2011

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 3)

1. Dysfunctional Leader Behaviors
    The first component of the "Toxic Triangle"

 “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”
         - General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

This is Part 3 of "How the Mighty Fail", based on "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines"

Studying the “dark side of charisma” is a relatively new phenomenon, pioneered in part by Robert Hogan who began researching in the 1980s. He since identified the key traits of destructive leaders.

Charismatic Leaders:

1.    They have really good social skills
2.    They tend to be bullies who use intimidation to get what they want
3.    They use seduction and betrayal to charm people in to giving them what they want
4.    They are over-controlling and micromanage
5.    They are self-absorbed
6.    They can deny people their basic humanity
7.    They are typically charismatic
a.    They self-promote, concerned with building support for themselves rather than pro-social causes.
b.    Most work long hours. Gaining support for a large agenda requires superior energy, stamina and   persistence
c.    Some show remarkable achievement at an early age.

Until a decade before his death in 2008, aged 87, my CEO was a highly respected, internationally acclaimed, charismatic leader. I admired his vision, his commitment, and his drive. I didn’t pay too much heed to the “flaws” in his personality thinking that none of us is perfect. Little did I suspect the power of his “dark side.” Indeed I don’t think very many people did until he was in his late eighties. By then I had left the organization.

In hindsight, it seems to me my CEO possessed many of the traits enumerated above. For instance, he founded his organization when he was barely twenty one years old.

Thanks to his powers of persuasion, charm and resolute drive he successfully recruited followers controlling them to a point that many would say denied their basic humanity. 

He made it quite clear, explicitly and implicitly, that those who were not for him were against him.

By the time he was thirty, his organization was solidly established in three countries on two continents. By then, in large part due to brilliant self-promotion, he counted on the enthusiastic support of financial backers, regulatory bodies, and some of the most important dignitaries of the Catholic Church.

He left an organization of some 700 priests and 2,500 seminarians operating universities and schools in more than 20 countries from Brazil to Chile and Spain. In the U.S., it operates 21 prep schools, a start-up university in Sacramento and the U.S.'s only three seminaries for teenage boys. An ancillary organization has more than 50,000 followers around the world

Maciel was dogged for years by allegations that he sexually molested young men studying to be priests, had affairs with women and was a drug addict. He evaded sanction thanks in large part to the privileged status granted him by the late Pope John Paul II. Only in 2006 did John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI, discipline Maciel by ordering him to stop functioning as a priest; by then, Maciel was 85.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 2)

 “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”
         - General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

This is Part 2 of "How the Mighty Fail", based on "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines"

The Toxic Triangle

The concept of the toxic triangle, described by Art Padilla, Robert Hogan and Robert Kaiser in their 2007 white paper “The Toxic Triangle: Destructive Leaders, Susceptible Followers and Conducive Environments.” (Padilla, A., Hogan, R. & Kaiser, R.B., 2007) helped me begin to make some sense of my experience. They describe the factors that contribute to the initial “success” of a destructive leader.

According to the authors, negative organizational outcomes are the product of:

  1. Dysfunctional leader behaviors.
  2. Susceptible followers.
  3. The contributing environment in which they interact.

The first point of the "triangle" resonated with my experience in management consulting. Like so many others, I first approached the notion of leadership in positive, constructive terms. As I gained experience coaching leaders, I soon became aware of the importance of the hidden, “dark” side of personality that reveals itself in times of frustration and stress.

A leader who is aware of the power of the “dark side” and who has identified the specific traits, based on personality type, which are likely to emerge has a decided advantage. So have companies who assess the “dark side” in their succession planning.Leaders, ignore the "dark side" at their peril.

When the dark side of a leader’s personality is ignored or left unchecked the long-term implications can be frightening. Witness the unprecedented corruption, scandals and bankruptcies in the recent past. Just as functional leaders can create wealth and success for a company, dysfunctional, destructive leaders can be extremely harmful.  Robert Hogan, president of the consulting company Hogan Assessment Systems, is a leader in the study of managerial incompetence and “destructive leadership.”  I have found his insights relevant and helpful and will use them to describe the components of the "toxic triangle."

1.- Dysfunctional leader behaviors

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Would a drop of honey achieve more than a barrel of vinegar?

I really haven't had a lot of time to post here over the past couple of months. So maybe I should provide some minor background – especially for new readers. The dominant theme is the Legion of Christ and the now disgraced founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel.

Allow me first to reiterate that, while in the LC I was one of the very first to speak of the Congregation as a cult. Essentially, that provoked my leaving. I think I was the first to describe the LC as a dysfunctional family. It doesn't matter a whit if I was first or not - my point is I've "been there, done that" earlier than most.

After the leaving the LC (way back in 1982) I felt enormous anger towards Maciel and I felt utterly betrayed and shunned by my LC peers who (true to form) once I left wanted nothing further to do with me. I guess I didn't want to have anything to do with them either - but the "shunning" caused a very deep wound. I fought, successfully, to obtain all the requisite dispensations from Rome so that I could marry within the Church at a time when such dispensations were borderline impossible. This is all ancient history, but it's important to note that I am not a "friend" of the Legion. I got on with my life and devoted my energy to more positive things. I've always wanted to live life looking ahead - not through the rear-view mirror.

Over the years, I felt a nagging need to write a book ("Driving Straight on Crooked Lines") about my experiences in the Legion and my personal dealings with Maciel. I guess I wrote it for my kids but I also thought my story might be of use to those who did not understand how so many of us were taken in by the founder. I wanted to figure that out for myself and, I wondered if the 20 years I "gave" to God within the Legion were of any value at all. I read a lot of pertinent blogs to get a sense of what I might have missed during my absence.

My book kindled lots of memories, most of them sad. But not all. We had some good times and we learned a lot. I certainly got to see the world, had incredible experiences (read my book!) holding on to my Faith and realizing that I did manage to do a lot of "good."

Then the Maciel scandal erupted. It saddened me, for the Church, for the good LC/RC, for their families. When I first heard of his betrayals I was quite devastated, then very angry (again!) At about the same time I was going through the agony of meeting with him in Cheshire to decide on the future of my vocation - he was fathering a child!!

Writing the book was cathartic. I felt better when I finished the process. Then came the good part: floods of e-mails, phone calls (some from people I hadn't heard from for 40 years) all of them saying how much my book had helped them. Some said it helped them understand what priests think about; a previously anti-Catholic businessman wrote it had changed his perspective. Former LCs were the most expressive - they said it helped them revisit the good and the bad and to find even more peace. Several current LCs said they liked it and that it gave them a better understanding about the LC's history (1962 is a long time ago for most of them!). Former RCs liked it, for the same reasons. Current RCs have used it for their "Encounters with Christ" (or whatever that is called now.) Paul Lennon, well known to this blog's readers, gave it a great review which I appreciate. So did Jason Berry. A few who left very recently, have said that reading it is too painful, for now.

You're thinking "what's the point?"

Perhaps I have come full circle. I was/am a victim of MM and the "system" as much as anyone else. My heart goes out to the sexual victims. Period. But they are not, by any means, the only "victims” although some of them are the "de facto" spokespersons for the amorphous group of "ex-Legionaries." I can only try to their anger - especially if, as they say, the Legion has not yet reached out to them. I I empathize with the many people affected by the LC/RC are still recovering. It's a process - but there is light at the end of the dark tunnel and I hope they know than and they do not lose hope. If recovery isn't happening after a reasonable amount of time, I'd suggest therapy. Regain has a directory of people who understand the phenomenon and are willing to help. Find a licensed therapist.

I abhor the "old" LC system. And I repudiate MM and his sick behavior. Renewed contact with some LC peers (e-mail) and former LCs has made me aware how much has changed since my times.  Changes for the better - I had heard about some of them but had never believed they were reality. Ethnic diversity and geographic expansion have worked some magic. Not nearly enough for me to feel good about the Congregation where I spent some of the most important years of my life.

The Legion has much more radical change to go through – less action, more spirituality; healthy obedience and chastity, more trust and humility... etc. etc. It would be good if they could "loosen up" and work on appearing less robotic. I believe they have started down that road. Most of them were as devastated by the MM scandal as we are - except they are still on the "inside," victims of his system. No doubt many of them share a lot of blame. Most of them don't. Some don't yet truly comprehend the depth of our upset. Those under 50, I think, do get it. But they too are stuck with the Vatican "process." Of course they want new leadership - but first they have to have a General Chapter. It's also much easier for a Legionary priest to leave the Congregation than it used to be.

Despite the fact that "listening" and "hearing" are not - in my experience - key Legionary competencies, deep down, they must cringe on a very human level when they become aware of the invective hurled against them. In my time, we were very good at not "hearing" criticism and we knew how to handle it within "fortress Legion." To my mind, the virulent criticism has not achieved much. Maybe it's time to see if a drop of honey might achieve more than a barrel of vinegar.

Frankly, I don't care much about the "Legion" or the "Regnum Christ" - two more "clerical" institutions and “clericalism” is a large part of the “problem.” But I do care about the people, the individuals - the generous men and women who, in good faith, left everything to follow Christ in the Legion or the Movement. So the institution treated me and so many others badly but I still care about my former colleagues -I feel the same way about ex-LC and ex-RC. That's why I hope Legionaries can re-discover their place in the Church, that they can "reform." God knows they have enough vocal critics telling them how bad and sick they are, what they should do, why they are to blame and etc.  It would be nice if, some time LC, RC and former members could all feel some sense of unity, having shared so many life-changing experiences. So far, the dominant theme seems to be anger and bitterness. That is a great loss.

Meanwhile the Pope and the universal Church seems to want the Legion and the Regnum Christi to survive and reform. I think the  faithful and hierarchy can learn so much from this experience - about clericalism, about authentic religious life, about contemporary spirituality, about the avoidance of sex abuse, about the dangers of charismatic and conservative zealots. That's why I try to keep a balanced perspective, inasmuch as I can. My father used to quote that Gospel phrase "He who hears you, hears me" with regards to the Pope. I confess I've had my doubts. But deep down I want my former colleagues  to heal and get better because, for the moment at least, that seems to be what the Church wants.

As an aside, I've started a series of reflections on  "How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership" based on my book. Constructive comments and insights are most welcome.

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 1)

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”
         - General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Last year, I wrote a book called “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind” It’s autobiographical about my experience in the Legion of Christ, an organization where I toiled for 20 years. Long after I left, I became certain that the CEO (Superior General, Fr. Marcial Maciel)), with whom I had collaborated very closely, was far more dysfunctional than I, our stakeholders, and the general public, ever imagined. It turned out that our super-efficient, wildly successful organization had very serious flaws. Flaws so grievous they caused a major international scandal which continues to affect the lives of many good people.

Reflecting on the leadership and organizational experience, I realized I had a great business-case study which warranted further reflection. Hence came the title for a speech I recently delivered to an international convention of financial executives, “How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership,” based on the experiences described in my book.

Until a decade before his death in 2008, aged 87, my CEO was a highly respected, internationally acclaimed, charismatic leader. I admired his vision, his commitment, and his drive. I didn’t pay too much heed to the “flaws” in his personality thinking that none of us is perfect. Little did I suspect the power of his “dark side.” Indeed I don’t think very many people did until he was in his late eighties. By then I had left the organization.

Every successful business needs effective leaders to utilize the skills of staff in order to achieve the aims of the business. This isn't just a matter for larger businesses - even a business that employs only one or two people still needs the abilities of a good leader.

I agree that most leadership results in both desirable and undesirable outcomes. However, dysfunctional leaders tend to have a selfish orientation. They focus on their needs and wants as opposed to the needs of their constituents and the larger social organization. As a management consultant I, and my colleagues, are constantly faced with “deficient leadership” issues that result in the lack of trust, poor communications, and lack of team cohesion.  During the past five or so years and, especially as a result of the global recession, the media has focused our attention on several acclaimed leaders whose conduct has caused disastrous consequences, way beyond what we might typically associate with inept leadership. 

Using the “business-case,” described in “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines” I want to dedicate a few postings to the phenomenon of "destructive leadership." What is it? What are the causes and contributing factors? What are the outcomes? How can we identify the traits in the leaders we choose? How can we mitigate its effects?

Destructive leadership compromises the quality of life for an organization's constituents. It undermines the achievement of corporate goals. Despite apparent successes, a lot of people can be hurt and a lot of damage can be done. I'll suggest that Fr. Maciel's leadership was “destructive” and not merely “deficient,” while suggesting an explanation for why he behaved the way he did and how he managed to deceive so many good people. My objective is to see what lessons can be learned from my experiences with him.

NEXT: The Toxic Triangle

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Only with ardent patience will we reach splendid happiness"

Pablo Neruda, who lived from 1904 – 1973, was the pen name and, later, legal name of the Chilean poet and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. He chose his pen name after Czech poet Jan Neruda. Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentinian poet,when asked for his opinion of Neruda, salid "I think of him as a very fine poet, a very fine poet. I don't admire him as a man, I think of him as a very mean man."

No matter what you think of his politics, I hope you find the following poem inspirational as we face the New Year.

Muere lentamente
(English translation below)

Muere lentamente quien se transforma en esclavo del hábito, repitiendo todos los días los mismos trayectos, quien no cambia de marca, no arriesga vestir un color nuevo y no le habla a quien no conoce.

Muere lentamente quien evita una pasión, quien prefiere el negro sobre blanco y los puntos sobre las "íes" a un remolino de emociones, justamente las que rescatan el brillo de los ojos, sonrisas de los bostezos, corazones a los tropiezos y sentimientos.

Muere lentamente quien no voltea la mesa cuando está infeliz en el trabajo, quien no arriesga lo cierto por lo incierto para ir detrás de un sueño, quien no se permite por lo menos una vez en la vida, huir de los consejos sensatos.

Muere lentamente quien no viaja, quien no lee, quien no oye música, quien no encuentra gracia en sí mismo.

Muere lentamente quien destruye su amor propio, quien no se deja ayudar.

Muere lentamente, quien pasa los días quejándose de su mala suerte o de la lluvia incesante.

Muere lentamente, quien abandona un proyecto antes de iniciarlo, no preguntando de un asunto que desconoce o no respondiendo cuando le indagan sobre algo que sabe.

Evitemos la muerte en suaves cuotas, recordando siempre que estar vivo exige un esfuerzo mucho mayor que el simple hecho de respirar.

Solamente la ardiente paciencia hará que conquistemos una espléndida felicidad.

-Pablo Neruda-

Those who become the slave of habit, who follow the same routes every day, who never change pace, who do not risk and change the color of their clothes, who do not speak and do not experience, die slowly.

Those who shun passion, who prefer black on white, and dotting their "i's" to a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer, that turn a yawn into a smile, that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings, die slowly.

Those who do not turn things on their head, who are unhappy at work, who do not risk certainty for uncertainty, thus to follow a dream, those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives, die slowly.

Those who do not travel, who do not read, who do not listen to music, who do not find grace in themselves, die slowly.

Those who slowly destroy their own self-esteem, who do not allow themselves to be helped, who spend days on end complaining about their bad luck, about the rain that never stops, die slowly.

Those who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions about subjects they don't know, those who don't reply when they are asked something they do know, die slowly.

Let's try and avoid death in small doses, reminding ourselves that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing. Only with ardent patience we reach a wonderful happiness.

-Pablo Neruda-

Click Here for Translation Source

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Happy and Humble New Year?

On December 24, 2010, in Rome Cardinal Velasio De Paolis C.S., President of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See and Pontifical Delegate for the Legion of Christ ordained 61 Legionaries of Christ to the priesthood. The ceremony was attended by family members, friends, fellow Legionaries, and Regnum Christi members who gathered in Rome for the occasion. By ordaining  so many priests in these difficult times, once again, the Legion has demonstrated that it is still a force to be reckoned with in the Catholic Church.

What sort of priests will these men be? Will they be able to separate themselves from the dysfunctional legacy of their founder, Fr. Maciel?  Will they be open to their families, their parishes and brother priests members of the diocesan clergy? Will they work in collaboration with the Bishops? Will they trust their fellow Legionaries? Will they continue to ostracize former Legionaries and Regnum Christi members many of whom they never knew but on whose shoulders they will build their new apostolates? Will they follow their vow of obedience in a psychologically sound way? Will they seem more "normal" and less "robotic" than some of their predecessors? Will they reach out to the victims of Maciel's physical abuse? Are they aware of the dysfunctional aspects of MM's legacy? Do they know they are not alone in their work? Will they welcome help and positive criticism?

Perhaps the beginning of an answer is to be found in a letter and progress report made public on December 14, 2010. The Legion of Christ has always been a proud, self-confident organization that has had to bite the dust thanks to the deceptions of the founder. They are going through a difficult time; how they react is not indifferent to the Catholic Church. Perhaps the Legionaries AND the Vatican will learn a very valuable lesson from this whole debacle. If they do and if they are humble perhaps so much suffering will not have been in vain.

Father John Connor, LC and Father Julio Marti, LC, territorial directors respectively of the Atlanta and New York territories issued an introductory letter to introduce a new 10-Point Progress Report that they will use in their territories to mark progress on the Legion’s commitments to improvement. Interestingly, "the report focuses on how we do things rather than the objective results of our efforts." This is important because a key element discussed by both the Vatican and the LC leadership in recent months is the concern that they have often sought results – at any cost.

The report presents information according to the commitments made by the Legion earlier this year in the March 25 letter from the order’s superiors, and includes key issues for improvement raised in the Vatican’s May 1 communiqué.  It will be updated periodically.

At a recent event that I attended, hosted by the Legionaries of Christ, I noted that Fr. John Connor was the only one of the 50 or so Legionaries in attendance, who seemed humble enough, or savvy enough, to publicly mention in his speech that the Legionaries are going through a difficult time. His comments were a refreshing oasis in a desert of denial. This letter reinforces the initial impression I had of his intervention. I suggest that the letter and report are well worth reading and I truly hope they reflect a new "attitude" and bode well for a better New Year for the congregation and those whose lives they affect.