Petraeus Affair: Hard Lessons for Leaders

The public fall of General David Petraeus sent shock waves through the nation, especially the military community. Petraeus represent for all Americans what was good and right about “citizen soldiers” of the United States. From all accounts he talked the talk and walked the walk. Then suddenly his reputation came crashing down around his feet. A lifetime of service and sacrifice for a grateful nation tarnish by incredible poor judgment.

Just days ago, Newsweek ran an article praising the general for his leadership and example. His principles of humble leadership called the readers to a higher standard. His first and foremost principle of leadership stated:

“Lead by example from the front of the formation. Take your performance personally—if you are proud to be average, so too will be your troops.”

Can you imagine how much these words–though true to the core–must haunt General Petraeus as he wrestles with the aftermath of violating his own core beliefs. I fear all of us who live in the public light and on the stage know all too well the struggles of living up to the standards and virtues we lay on the shoulders of others. Years ago during my doctoral studies I participated in a seminar on “The Private Life of a Public Person.” We dug deep into the motivations and actions of those who live in the spotlight while President Clinton lived out the scandal and shame of his moral failures in the White House.

The writer of Proverbs centuries before noted in military terms the dangers of having a lack of self-control. He wrote:

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Proverbs 25:28 NIV

Discipline and self-control protect us from ourselves. The sinful nature stirs deep within the heart and only a fool would believe he or she cannot fall. The old Puritan John Owen warned: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” For years this quote hung above a study desk as a constant reminder that my enemy within and without plays for keeps.

Pray for General Petraeus and his family. His fall need not be the final word on his life and career, nor does it negate all the good he has accomplished with his life, but his fall warns us all to guard our hearts with all vigilence lest we too fall.

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Filed under Devotion, Leadership, World Events

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