Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

By Robert I. Sutton

As I show in my book Good Boss, Bad Boss, wielding power over others has numerous negative side effects: people become more focused on their own needs, act like the rules don't apply to them, and have less impulse control. I call this "power poisoning." Unfortunately, among male leaders this disease is too often reflected in an inability to stifle embarrassing, self-destructive, and sometimes unlawful sexual acts. The majority of powerful men find ways to avoid "penis poisoning." (For ways leaders can defend themselves against this malady, see my related article "Why Powerful Men Let Lust Ruin Their Careers.") But as the following gallery shows, far too many have fallen prey to it.

Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Clinton could have gone down in history as one of the greatest U.S. presidents — if only he'd been able to keep it in his pants when Monica visited the Oval Office. Perhaps he may still do so. The American people appear to have forgiven him: according to a Gallup poll conducted in July, Clinton is more popular than Barack Obama. Perhaps his supporters can help further enhance his reputation by spreading word of scholarly research suggesting that U.S. Presidents who had mistresses were more effective "in handling international, social-domestic or economic issues" than those who did not. The academics who reported these findings are careful to point out that these results do not mean taking a mistress makes a president perform the job better. Rather, it's probably a side-effect of being tall and charismatic: qualities that energize and build public confidence — and also attract members of the opposite sex.

 

Photo: Getty

Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

You have to be impressed with Tiger's ability to multitask: While performing as the best golfer in the world, he also apparently serviced 15 or more women — some just once, and others many times. Tiger's shenanigans show the extremes of how, when a man has great fame, power, and wealth, penis poisoning can reach extreme levels. Not only was Tiger's stamina impressive, you have to hand to his team for their deft logistics: scheduling all those liaisons around his busy schedule couldn't have been easy.

 

Photo: Getty

Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

John Edwards

John Edwards

The former senator from North Carolina was a strong contender in the 2008 presidential race — until news broke that he'd fathered a child with a former campaign worker while his wife was battling breast cancer. Edwards committed one of the hallmarks of penis poisoning — surrounding oneself with "yes men" who enable bad behavior — when he convinced campaign aide Andrew Young to falsely claim paternity of the child, which he later admitted was his.

 

Photo: John Edwards 2008 via Flickr

Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

Mark Hurd

Mark Hurd

We don't know exactly what former HP CEO Mark Hurd did to get sacked by his board; the lawyers rolled in and apparently made sure the right people were paid enough to keep their mouths shut. But the facts revealed by Hurd and HP's board suggest that he, too, was suffering from penis poisoning, which led him to focus a bit too much on his own desires, have impulse control problems of some kind, and act as if (given HP's ethical guidelines) the rules didn't apply to him — even if it is true, as is claimed, that he never had sex with that woman. Whatever happened, it sure pissed off the HP board, especially Ray Lane (a new member who for many years was the COO for Hurd's new boss, Oracle's Larry Ellison). Lane recently wrote to The New York Times, "Mr. Hurd violated the trust of the board by repeatedly lying to them in the course of an investigation into his conduct."

 

Photo: Getty

Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

Eliot Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer

The former New York attorney general suffered from the double whammy of hypocrisy and penis poisoning. While aggressively going after fraud and corruption, and bringing down the hammer on Wall Street executives, Spitzer was renting one high-priced prostitute after another. His reputation as a reformer got him elected governor — a job he lost immediately when his indiscretions became public. His antics remind me of something my father-in-law said to me many years ago. To paraphrase, "When a guest starts talking about ethics and morality, I hide the good silverware."

 

Photo: Getty

Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

Dov Charney

Dov Charney

The current champion of the CEO penis poisoning derby is probably Dov Charney, the horny founder of American Apparel. The sexual harassment suits have been dismissed, but Charney confirms reports that he feels free to engage in sexual relations with his employees and, according to BusinessWeek, did not deny a story in Jane magazine that said he had oral sex with an employee and also masturbated in front of a reporter from the magazine.

 

Photo: dovcharney via Flickr

Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

Another hypocrite: After years of voting against and denouncing gay rights legislation, former Idaho Senator Craig was arrested at the Minneapolis airport for making sexual advances toward a male undercover agent in the bathroom stall next to him. Perhaps his claims that he is not gay and he did not make sexual advances toward the officer (along with other denials that he solicited sex from men) are true, but it sure looks bad.

 

Photo: Getty

Sex, Lies and Stupidity: Great Men Who Self-Destructed

Catholic Priests

Catholic Priests

Some of the saddest and most damaging cases of penis poisoning involve the disgraceful transgressions of numerous Catholic priests who flouted the law and the Bible's teachings because they couldn't stop themselves from abusing thousands of young boys over whom they wielded power. The Church finally appears to be addressing past sins and current problems aggressively, but it has taken far too long.

 

 

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