I try to stay away from religion and politics at this blog, but I’m going to give you my two cents worth on the Rush Limbaugh controversy because I think it speaks to leadership. As you probably know by now, last week Mr. Limbaugh made some very disparaging remarks about a Georgetown law student named Sandra Fluke. He called her a slut and a prostitute on his radio show. Mr. Limbaugh has apologized but many of his corporate sponsors have withdrawn their support for his show.
Ms. Fluke testified before the U.S. Congress about insurance coverage for contraceptive drugs. People have religious views about contraception and political views about health insurance. Both Ms. Fluke and Mr. Limbaugh have legitimate but different perspectives on these issues. Reasonable people should be able to engage others in issue-focused conversation about the merits of their positions without the use of derogatory rhetoric.
Corporations are organizations of people. Leaders of corporations approve corporate sponsorship of individuals on all sides of the political and religious spectrum. I like that because it supports a marketplace of differing ideas. If we don’t like the views of someone that a corporation supports, then we are free to choose to spend our money with the company’s competition. One clear goal of corporate sponsorship is to sell more products and services, so corporate leaders continually evaluate the costs and benefits of everyone they support.
As a service provider, Mr. Limbaugh has to assume full responsibility for his choices and the consequences of his behavior. But Mr. Limbaugh is also seen by many as a thought leader in his “industry” and the standards of conduct for those we call leaders simply must be higher. The most important issue here is not Mr. Limbaugh’s integrity but our own leadership integrity.
Mr. Limbaugh’s incivility toward Ms. Fluke was totally unacceptable. Even if I agreed with his views, I’d choose not to listen to him because of the way he conducts himself. It’s more a matter of my character than of his. As Bob Sutton says “Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only make you feel bad about yourself, chances are you will eventually start acting like them.”
Leaders, guard your mind because it is the gateway to your heart. If you allow yourself to love incivility in any form, then eventually you will begin to speak and act the same way. Lend your ear to those who speak what you believe to be true in ways that respect the basic dignity of those who happen to disagree. Civility is a personal and corporate virtue we need to honor and reward.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!