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

Take the Rupert Murdoch Test

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Noah Berger/AP file photo

Well, you have to hand it to News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch. He knows how to generate a story. The twist on the latest Murdoch story, however, is that he’s the subject of it. This week, a British parliamentary panel investigating phone hacking, email hacking and bribery of police officers by his company’s managers and reporters concluded that there was “willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications” and “that “Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.” (Check out the Financial Times and the New York Times for the back story.)

That’s some pretty strong stuff but it seems more than appropriate when you consider that reporters in Murdoch’s organization, in the interest of scooping the competition, hacked the voice mail of a 13 year old murder victim and the e-mails of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I wrote last year, in a post called You Get The Culture You Pay For, the managers at News Corp created a win-at-all-costs culture and then worked to cover up and deny the criminality when it began to come to light.

As the proverb says, a fish rots from the head down. The person at the top ultimately owns the culture that informs the way the people in the organization think, decide and act. Of course, News Corp. is not the only organization in the news lately for scandalous or criminal behavior. The story of Murdoch and his top managers offers, though, a helpful set of questions that anyone can use as a test to determine whether or not their boss is fit to lead. Stepping back to consider these questions from time to time might give you the chance to spot and tamp down trouble in your organization before it spins out of control. At a minimum, they can give you a heads up that you probably need to find another place to work.

Here’s the Rupert Murdoch Test:

  • Do the Ends Justify the Means? The culture that Murdoch fostered was a win-at-all-costs, pulverize-the-competition culture. The implicit (and, perhaps, explicit) message was the ends justify the means. Doing whatever it takes to win often leads to losses (financial, reputational, moral and otherwise) that exceed the gain. If your boss is pushing a win-at-all-costs approach, they’re unfit to lead.
  • Does the Boss Look the Other Way? Those who remember Enron probably recall that while the COO and the CFO were cooking the books, the CEO, Ken Lay, was saying everything was just fine right up until the day the company imploded. Likewise, in the News Corp. case Murdoch has said he was unaware of what was going on with the hacking. It’s just not credible is it? If your boss is looking the other way while bad stuff is going on, they’re unfit to lead.
  • Do They Own Up or Do They Cover Up? No one is perfect and since they’re made up of people, there are no perfect organizations. Mistakes will be made. The question is when the mistakes come to light does the boss own up or cover up? It seems like every week we see another example of the cover up being worse than the crime. If your boss’s instinct is to cover up mistakes, they’re unfit to lead.

So, those are three questions to get us started on determining whether or not a boss is fit to lead. What other questions would you add to the test?

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.

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