Scoundrels Thrive in the Absence of Leaders

“. . . 2017 is shaping up to be The Year of No More.”

Harvey Weinstein is the new poster boy for abusive behavior: a Hollywood high-roller who reportedly low-balled vulnerable women with unwelcomed advances and expectations of sexual submission. Until recently, he sneaked under the radar of a town that prides itself on social progressiveness and the championing of women’s rights.  

Tinseltown A-listers have come forward to admit that they knew. Yet their shame is poor consolation for the suffering that Weinstein, among the most accomplished film producers in the entertainment industry, apparently inflicted on women who placed their trust in his professional influence and power.

Matt Damon — an actor of legendary status for his work in successful films such as “Good Will Hunting,” “The Bourne Identity,” and “The Martian,” — first stated he knew nothing about Weinstein’s antics, but later admitted that he did. Others of similar stature have also come forward.

“I knew he was an a–hole, he was proud of that,” Damon told ABC News. “That’s how he carried himself. I knew he was a womanizer. I wouldn’t want to be married to the guy. But the criminal, sexual predation is not something that I ever thought was going on. Absolutely not.” 

Sexual hostility, however, is not always criminal, despite the damage it causes to victims and the organizations in which it occurs. To wait for behavior to rise to the level of a crime is too late. Good people must act decisively when bad people cause suffering.

Weinstein appears to be a classic case of a predator who basked in the narcissistic thrill of getting away with it. The behavior of which he’s been accused shouldn’t happen in modern society, especially in a place like Hollywood, but it does; the scoundrels responsible for it hold all of us back. They are the ceiling, the weak link, the barrier to our potential for progress. In business, they stifle our competitiveness.

All of us should be troubled by the story of Harvey Weinstein.  He is a painful reminder that we have people among us who are beyond the reach of social wisdom and standards of behavior. Yes, they often are talented, hardworking and ambitious. But, they don’t see rules as applicable to them, and they aren’t burdened with the same sense of responsibility that restrains the rest of us. If they have enough power and are willing to use it, the intimidation they produce can be paralyzing. As a result, they live life as a constant threat because no one is willing to neutralize them.

It seems that 2017 is shaping up to be The Year of No More.  It began with the nonstop coverage of Bill Cosby and his legal battles against damaging accusations of gross sexual misconduct involving the poisoning and rape of alleged victims. It continued with the downfall of Bill O’Reilly, perhaps the most powerful name in evening news, after being accused of repeated sexual harassment toward female colleagues at Fox News.  

Just recently, Megyn Kelly — O’Reilly’s formidable colleague at Fox News, and the current host of NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today — denounced his denials.  According to USA Today, Kelly takes note of the enormous $32 million settlement that saved O’Reilly from the scrutiny of a courtroom.  

“What on earth would justify that amount?” Kelly asked. “What awfulness went on?”

Fair question. Here’s another: What cultural dynamics allow such awfulness to emerge in the first place?

Ten years ago, legendary Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca vented his frustrations in a best-selling book titled, “Where have all the Leaders Gone?”  In it, Iacocca scolds many in our public and private institutions for their lack of courage in dealing with the great challenges of our time.

According to Iacocca, “Instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads.”

Just as scoundrels thrive in the company of cowards, they likewise shudder in the shadows of great leaders. Leaders have backbones. They fertilize our cultural soil with nutrients that are poisonous to scoundrels. In the absence of leaders, all of us become vulnerable to predators and hustlers.

Too many of today’s leaders are people-pleasers and believe leadership is an exercise in placation. Some achieve their positions through political jockeying and favoritism rather than raw talent. They may have authority and may be highly compensated for what they do, but they steer clear of conflict and are unwilling to challenge inappropriate ways of thinking.  Perhaps they don’t know how or don’t want to lose what they have. Either way, they leave suffering in their wakes.  

Great leaders put within our reach exciting possibilities for the future, while scoundrels weaken our grip, caring only for themselves, their desires, and their ambitions. They limit the capacity of people, teams and organizations to maximize their fullest potential. In the worst instances, they bring harm to people who deserve much better.

Where have all the leaders gone?  They are out there, but so are the scoundrels. In the end, the quality of our personal and professional lives will always depend on great leaders with great strength.  

But, as the modern-day scoundrels teach us, we need more.

John Collins is a High-Stakes Leadership Consultant & Executive Coach at Critical Victories near Lansing, Michigan.  He is an active speaker, writer, coach, and consultant focusing on people, teams, and organizations seeking to thrive in high-pressure environments.  Learn more about John and Critical Victories at

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