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Sexual abuses, Bosses and the Bathsheba syndrome

King David is a character depicted in the Old Testament of Bible. He was an ordinary shepherd who successfully confronted the nine-foot, bronze armoured Philistine giant Goliath with a sling and a few stones. He became the king of Israel by defeating exploiters and enemies of the people of the nation. He was a very efficient administrator and was committed to delivering justice to his people. It is written that he was also a man of integrity. However, one single act of succumbing to his lust resulted in his downfall.

While his men were at war, he spied a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, from his rooftop. Though he found that she was married to one of his army men, he forced her to be in a relationship with him. He sent her husband to the front lines of battle where he got killed. David then married Bathsheba and was severely rebuked by the Prophet Nathan who said, ‘sword will never depart from thine house’. David cried to God for the rest of his life in repentance: ‘For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned. And done this evil in Your sight’.

Incidents of abuses

There are many bosses who would like to have female companions. Some of them even invest in expensive houses to maintain absolute privacy when they are with such friends. DL, who used to host a popular late night show, had to apologise publicly after news of his affairs with female staff members came out. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey he said, ‘I hurt a lot of people. I have nobody to blame but myself. I am looking to find out why I behaved the way I behaved.’

Bhavya, a senior level executive in a large IT company said, ‘I had to leave my first job due to sexual harassment - not by one guy, but by multiple bosses. Another lady and I were the first women sales employees in the company, employed by management to deal with the activities of the union in the sales department. So the union guys decided to drive us off or make us conform by harassing us wherever we went. My immediate boss purposely gave me evening jobs so that he could accompany me and say uncomfortable things. But I couldn't speak up. I quit the job finally.’

Jacinta, who worked in a company at UAE, shared an incident: ‘One of my colleagues, who is Lebanese, was reporting to our HR director; she was his executive secretary. Every day he would call her for closed-door meetings inside his cabin. Initially the relationship was healthy; he would say that he was like a father to her. Over time however, he started commenting about her looks and dresses and passing vulgar comments. He also started sending her obscene texts. One day, during a meeting, she switched on the recording system in her mobile and recorded the conversation. With this, she escalated the matter to the CEO of the company. But the outcome was totally unexpected. She was the one dismissed from service. She went to the labour court and the police arrested the HR director. Finally, the matter was settled outside court and the HR director had to pay huge compensation to the employee.’

The President and CEO of a multinational company that provided full-spectrum consulting, technology and business process outsourcing was shown the door after an investigation by a counsel engaged by the Board, where they found that he had a relationship with a subordinate  employee; there was also an allegation of sexual harassment. He had demonstrated outstanding leadership skills during his 10-year tenure. In a media release, the company admitted that he worked hard to establish the company as a leader in the IT industry. The gentleman had earlier headed the global operations of another IT giant till he was asked to quit on allegations of sexual harassment there as well. He was widely credited for his crucial contribution in making the company achieve a turnover of over 700 million dollars from a meagre 2 million dollars, all within a few years. The company had to pay the employee a whopping 3 million dollars in an out-of-court settlement.

There are several such incidents reported about successful leaders. The Director General and CEO of an International agency with a 1.2 million membership had to resign on an allegation that he sexually abused a child more than thirty years ago. He was a person with excellent leadership skills and led the organization very efficiently for several years. In another case, an organization accused the head of a premier intelligence agency in one country, stating that he was in the habit of hiring a prostitute every three days.

A former minister of railways in a country was accused by the government of taking favours in the form of women, including actors, for sanctioning contracts for high speed rail projects and transportation of coal. The heads of some international regulatory and funding organizations have also faced allegations of sexual misconduct and have had to resign pending an investigation into the allegations. After a hotel maid accused the head of an international financial institution of sexual assault, it took months to get the charges cleared, and even then he struggled to regain his image. Though some people tend to forgive leaders’ sexual transgressions, such incidents usually devastate their career at least for a few years.

BD, the CEO of a multinational retail company, had to resign because the company found that he had an inappropriate relationship with a female employee. In another incident, after 31 trainees complained about the sexual misconduct of GP, an efficient Air Forces Colonel, he was relieved of his duties.  Recent incident is the accusation against RKP, a very senior scientist of a prestigious energy research institute.

Why only the powerful and successful people are accused?

All incidents reported may not be truly cases of sexual harassment. Many leaders at the pinnacle of success have been brought down because of charges of sexual misconduct. In most cases, allegations are aimed at making such persons give up their grip on the organization. Efficient and disciplined bosses have often had to leave organizations simply because of suspicion, even when such allegations are not proved. There are many incidents were women use such accusation as a ploy to corner a tough boss.

Power corrupts senses too

There are two factors common in the above cases: all the accused were in powerful positions and were successful leaders who had turned around their respective organizations. No organization would have liked to terminate them. Power and success can thus make people overconfident about their acceptance in the organization. In an excellent analytical article in the Journal of Business Ethics way back in 1993, Ludwig and Longenecker  pointed out how successful people fail ethically at some point. They said that success makes managers complacent and lose focus.

With large teams and resources at their disposal, they may begin to have a tendency to indulge in excesses. Further, people who depend on them become vulnerable to their actions. Also, in spite of their strong position as superiors, they may become weak before attractive women in the team.

The success and power do not intoxicate a person who is emotionally mature, ethically conscious, socially responsive and morally strong. There is a need to draw lessons from the experiences of people who are fallen from grace due to avoidable aberrations.

  © Sibichen K Mathew.   Views are personal. Some incidents illustrated here are sub judice and hence not aimed at passing a judgment against the persons involved.

 (Above content is partly based on a chapter on the subject written by author in his book ‘When the Boss is Wrong: The Making and Unmaking of the Leader within You’’. Read the book published by Rupa Publishers to know about more interesting stories on ‘Bosses and the Bathsheba Syndrome’. Available in your nearest books store or Amazon or Flipkart)

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