A poor lesson in authentic leadership

While political correspondents are trying to unpick the truth behind the Jeremy Corbyn vs. Virgin Trains spat, the business press today landed on the apology issued by the chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, António Horta-Osório to the 75,000 bank employees (concerning his alleged extra-marital affair). Just another day in politics and banking, and leadership qualities of integrity and authenticity are once more under the microscope.

Being a leader is no picnic. Less than a year into his job at the end of 2011, Horta-Osório took time off due to stress, having thrown himself too hard into rescuing the bank after the Government bail out. No doubt, he has made personal sacrifices for his job. Today he states in the memo, he is committed to the success of the bank, regrets that a personal matter has caused so much public scrutiny and he doesn’t expect people to get things right all the time.

For sure, none of us is perfect. But if you want people to support you in a leadership role, you have to accept that leadership carries responsibility. People don’t just look up to you on a pedestal, they notice how you behave, when you’re not looking and they are definitely going to see you, warts and all. They have high expectations about your integrity and they have a choice whether to follow your lead.

But the whole professional-personal routine is a bit of an own goal. I am a customer of Lloyds and a few weeks ago had a meeting with my personal banker to do some long term financial planning. Among the categories on their systems for my future potential “big expenses” were a flat deposit (apparently for my children), several weddings (yes, also for my children), holidays (now you’re talking) and, I kid you not, midlife crisis (I think that was a fast car or boat for my husband). The whole episode was like another vignette for their latest corporate advertising “For the next steps”, which frankly I have always felt crosses the line.

But we are all guilty of that. In my view, our working and social patterns and the communications we use have blurred the lines between the personal and professional, and almost everything else in between. Nothing is really personal any more and nothing is sacred, not even our private midlife crises. If Horta-Osório wants to be cut a bit of slack, then let’s hope the Executive extends the same forgiveness to other, more junior employees in the bank, who may be carers, or parents or divorcees or indeed anyone, like the customers in their advertising, who is going through a crisis at home.

In all this furore, the winner is probably Lloyds’ code of personal conduct, which simply asks employees to behave in a way that they would be happy to share with their colleagues, family and friends, or simply, to do the right thing. This infers that people bring their whole self to work, including their personal values.

People with integrity respect leaders with integrity way more than the position they hold. They also like to work for organisations that share their values, and they are loyal to them. Personal loyalty is such a hard-earned asset for a leader to command, surely it is too precious to be compromised.

credit lloyds bank website

credit lloyds bank website

Whatever your next step, we’ll be by your side

Lloyds Bank “For the next steps” campaign features personal turning points including return to education, marriage, separation and divorce, and bereavement.