Authenticity, transparency and honesty are words often used to describe great leaders. We expect that they will embody these characteristics in order to properly guide our organizations, our companies and our country to greatness. But, what happens when leader allegedly misrepresents herself as in the case of Rachel Dolezal?
What happens is a bit of chaos and uncertainty, particularly for those who looked up to and worked alongside that leader, and no matter how effective the leader was in that role, there's a significant loss of trust. And, while many have been attacking Dolezal over this firestorm, they have also conceded that she was indeed effective as the president of the Spokane, Washington, NAACP Chapter. However, certain inconsistencies and misrepresentation of facts in Dolezal's past, such as a discrimination claim against Howard University for not giving her a position because she was White and falsely identifying another man as her father, has called into question her credibility as a leader, and perhaps even her character as a person. The major issue here when examining this from a leadership lens is not what Dolezal "allegedly" lied about, but it is the mere fact that she lied.
Had Dolezal come out and said from the beginning that she is a White woman who for a variety of reasons, including growing up with Black adopted siblings, felt very in tune with the Black culture, the news coverage could have gone a totally different way, particularly since she was strong in her role. Given her work for the advancement of persons of color, society might be a bit more forgiving, but it's the seemingly blatant dishonesty even after being exposed that I believe will hinder her acquiring any kind of significant leadership position in the future.
In the Matt Lauer interview, Dolezal could not say whether or not she thought she would have been able to have as much impact on the cause as a Caucasian woman. Who knows if she could have, but history has shown some great leadership from the likes of John F. Kennedy who was steadfast in his support of the Civil Rights movement, proving that a leader can certainly be controversial and even support a cause or fight that is not their "own." I think the message here is that misrepresentation on any level will strip a leader of her credibility no matter how passionate she is.
On another note, a few people have asked about my perspective on this issue from a racial standpoint. As a Black woman, I most certainly have a view on the race implications, but that could be a whole other lengthy (and much less diplomatic) blog post. However, to give you a bit of insight into what I'm thinking, I'll end with this - #ByeFelicia.