Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Has Ego Trumped Your Mission?


As you’ve no doubt read, the Komen Foundation – the people behind the pink ribbons to fight breast cancer – found themselves at the center of controversy last week after they decided to pull funding for breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood. The basis for the decision, according to Komen officials: They no longer wanted to give money to  organizations that were “under investigation.”  The only Komen grantee that met that criterion was Planned Parenthood, which is the subject of a non-criminal investigation by a member of Congress.

When an outcry on social media ensued, the traditional media quickly picked up the story.  Many of the corporate partners of Komen started expressing their reservations.  Two days later, the leadership of Komen tried to clarify their position by saying it was not their intention to target Planned Parenthood and that the funding would be restored.  (The whole story is recapped in this article from The New York Times.)

Regardless of how you feel about Planned Parenthood,  it’s clear that the Komen Foundation hadn’t fully prepared for the era when transparency has moved from buzzword to reality. Social media has a way of  making quick work of leaders who put their ego games ahead of their organizations’ missions. Komen officials’ mistakes offer a warning to other leaders who think they are immune to  such lightning-fast takedowns.

You know you’re headed for trouble when:

  •  You start splitting verbal hairs.  By coming up with a policy to defund organizations under investigation, the Komen board knew whom they were targeting.  When they reversed the defunding decision they said they meant to focus on organizations that were under criminal investigation.  By splitting verbal hairs they lost credibility with their core supporters and parties on both sides of the Planned Parenthood debate.  If you find yourself working overtime on crafting the nuanced language of your statements, that’s a sign you’re headed for trouble.
  •  Your organization becomes bigger than the cause.  Over the years, I’ve supported a lot of friends participating in Komen fundraising events but I never really looked at the Komen Foundation’s website.  I did when preparing this post.  Maybe it was the overwhelming pinkness of the site or all of the fundraising and marketing going on throughout the site, but I felt like I was being sold a product called the Komen Foundation rather than reading about an organization trying to cure breast cancer.   Perhaps the lesson is that leaders should pay attention to what they’re promoting.  If more of your attention is on the organization than the mission, that could be a sign you’re headed for trouble.
  •  Your leaders become bigger than the organization.  Given that the Susan G. Komen Foundation was started by the sister of a breast cancer victim, I understand that the founder and CEO, Nancy G. Brinker, would be featured prominently on their website.  No problem with that, but when I read her bio on the site, I kind of went, “Hmmm.”  It begins with the statement, “Nancy G. Brinker is regarded as the leader of the global breast cancer movement,” and goes on to mention her ambassadorship, her New York Times bestselling book and at least 10 awards she’s won.  I applaud all that she has accomplished but is that really the point?   When leaders are bigger than the organizations they lead, that’s usually a sign of trouble ahead.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.