All leaders fall into one of two categories – Great Examples or Cautionary Tales.

This past week, Bill O’Reilly became a cautionary tale.  The Fox News icon and host of The O’Reilly Factor,  was forced out of his popular primetime position amidst allegations of sexual harassment and an advertising exodus.  On Thursday April 20th, the USA Today presented comprehensive coverage of the decision and the conduct of its highly-paid employee.  There are several lessons all leaders can learn from this scandal:

  1. Talent Is Never Enough – O’Reilly is the latest example of someone whose talent took them to a place where their character could not sustain them.  It was reported “he has faced charges of domestic abuse, accusations of numerous racist or racially insensitive statements, a custody battle, spates with colleagues over work credit and allegations of inaccuracies of reporting and tyrannical behavior on the job.”
  2. The Best Indicator Of Future Performance Is Past Performance – Roger Yu reported, “Fox and O’Reilly paid five women about $13 million in total in exchange for agreements to not sue or speak about the allegations.  O’Reilly and his lawyer have denied he acted inappropriately.”
  3. Money Should Not Have To Talk But It Does – 60 big brands removed their financial support of the show.  Attorney Gloria Allred then made an interesting observation, “How many women have to come forward for one woman to be believed’ but I guess there’s no substitute for a loss in advertising dollars…Follow the money and you understand why businesses make the decisions they do.”
  4. No Leader Is Above Accountability – In 2016 alone, The O’Reilly Factor enjoyed high ratings and brought in a staggering $150 million in advertising revenue.  Despite his high profile and 21-year tenure, this no longer mattered.  Tuna Amobi, equity analyst with CFRA Research said, “It was no longer just about finances, it was reputation.”
  5. Leadership Is Always Temporary So Steward It Well – Everyone is replaceable.  It was immediately announced O-Reilly’s time slot would be filled by Tucker Carlson.  Life goes on.  Branding consultant Allen Adamson said, “There will be some outrage among his fans, but most of his viewers are attached to the network, not the show.”
  6. Change Is Now Incredibly Dynamic – Once Fox News acted, it was swift and decisive.  Change was immediate.  The most dominant personality in network news was out and replaced in the blink of an eye.  In the last year, the pastor of one of America’s five largest churches was fired and immediately replaced.  No matter how successful you may be as a leader, you can replaced in an instant.

The truth is all leaders – pastors, coaches, businessmen and women, heads of non-profits, those in academia – we are all capable of and have the capacity for similar behavior.  Therefore, strong guardrails and clear codes of conduct must be put into place for the good of everyone.

The best boundaries I have seen an organization put into place are by Saddleback Church led by the incomparable Rick Warren.  The following are the Saddleback Staff Standards for maintaining moral integrity.  If you are in any type of leadership, these should be instituted in your organization as well.

  1. Thou shalt not go to lunch alone with the opposite sex. *
  2. Thou shalt not have the opposite sex pick you up or drive you places when it is just the two of you. *
  3. Thou shalt not kiss any attender of the opposite sex or show affection that could be questioned. *
  4. Thou shalt not visit the opposite sex alone at home.
  5. Thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex alone at the office, and thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex more than once without that person’s mate. Refer them.
  6. Thou shalt not discuss detailed sexual problems with the opposite sex in counseling. Refer them.
  7. Thou shalt not discuss your marriage problems with an attender of the opposite sex.
  8. Thou shalt be careful in answering emails, instant messages, chatrooms, cards, or letters from the opposite sex.
  9. Thou shalt make your secretary your protective ally.
  10. Thou shalt pray for the integrity of other staff members.

* The first 3 do not apply to unmarried staff.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” ~ Eph. 5:3 (NIV)


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