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Unmasking the Dark Side of Success: Insights from Lydia Tar’s Downfall

Written by: Greg Weiss

I recently watched the highly acclaimed movie, TAR, with the Oscar-winning performance of Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar. Without ruining the story, in case you are yet to see it,  I wanted to explore Lydia Tar’s downfall and the invaluable lessons it holds for us all as leaders.

1. The Hubris Trap:

Harvard Business Review’s article “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?” by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones highlights how effective leaders exhibit authenticity and humbleness.

A similar concept is emphasised in “Rocket Fuel,” where the authors stress the importance of a Visionary acknowledging their own limitations and leaning on the Integrator’s skills for effective execution, thus avoiding the hubris trap Lydia fell into.

2. The Misuse of Power:

In an HBR article titled “Power Doesn’t Have to Corrupt,” John Antonakis and Robert Hooijberg demonstrate how leaders can effectively use power to inspire and motivate.

They discourage the abuse of power, reminding us of Lydia’s case. The Integrator in “Rocket Fuel” is a perfect example of a power broker, using their influence to implement the Visionary’s ideas responsibly.

3. Lack of Ethical Standards:

“Ethics as a Strategy” in HBR by Guido Palasso and Ulrich Hoffrage discusses how firms like Siemens recovered from scandal by committing to ethical behavior. Lydia lacked this commitment, leading to her downfall.

In contrast, the “Rocket Fuel” model emphasises the adherence to shared values between the Visionary and the Integrator.

4. Damage to Reputation:

HBR’s article “Reputation and Its Risks” by Robert Eccles et al. elucidates how companies like BP suffered substantial reputational damage due to ethical missteps, much like Lydia.

Rocket Fuel” advises leaders to uphold ethics to maintain the organisation’s reputation.

5. Impact on Talent Acquisition:

In the HBR article, “Employer Branding Is a No-Brainer” by Bryan Adams and Charlotte Marshall, it’s clear that a strong, ethical reputation attracts top talent.

Lydia’s damaged reputation would have been a significant deterrent, but in “Rocket Fuel,” Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters stress that strong ethical leadership is a magnet for attracting the best talent.

6. Cultivating Humility:

HBR’s “The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaders” by Jeanine Prime and Elisabeth Salib emphasises humility as a vital leadership trait.

The Visionary in “Rocket Fuel” displays this by acknowledging the need for an Integrator to complement their skills.

7. Upholding Integrity:

“Integrity: Without It, Nothing Works,” an HBR article by Michael C. Jensen, echoes the importance of integrity for successful leadership.

“Rocket Fuel” mirrors this sentiment, placing a high value on the Integrity of both the Visionary and the Integrator.

8. Leading Ethically:

An HBR article, “Creating an Ethical Workplace” by Ron Carucci, emphasises the need for leaders to set a strong ethical tone.

“Rocket Fuel” also strongly advocates for ethical leadership as part of the Visionary and Integrator’s shared values.

9. Fostering a Culture of Ethics:

Lynn S. Paine’s HBR article, “Managing for Organisational Integrity,” stresses the importance of fostering a culture of ethics.

Similarly, “Rocket Fuel” emphasises a shared ethical culture between the Visionary, Integrator, and the entire organisation.

10. Attracting Talent through Ethical Leadership:

According to the HBR article “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture” by Boris Groysberg et al., a culture led by ethical leaders attracts high-quality talent. In “Rocket Fuel,” the authors argue that a company with ethical leadership will be more successful in both talent acquisition and retention.

Maintaining the trajectory of exploring Lydia Tar’s narrative, we can extrapolate further insights related to leadership, ethics, and talent acquisition, using insights from both Harvard Business Review (HBR) articles and the book “Rocket Fuel”.

11. Encouraging Accountability:

Lydia’s lack of accountability was a significant contributing factor to her downfall. The HBR article, “Building a Transparent Culture” by Robert H. Rosen, emphasises the need for transparency and accountability in leadership.

The authors of “Rocket Fuel” further underline the role of the Integrator in holding everyone, including the Visionary, accountable for their actions.

12. Fostering Collaboration:

In the movie, Lydia’s authoritarian leadership style stifled collaboration, leading to a toxic work environment. The HBR article “Collaborative Leadership” by Herminia Ibarra and Morten T. Hansen highlights the importance of promoting collaboration within organisations.

“Rocket Fuel” underscores this with the Visionary and Integrator model, which hinges on effective collaboration.

13. Promoting Sustainable Leadership:

Lydia’s shortsightedness and lack of ethical considerations ultimately led to her downfall. In contrast, the HBR article “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader” by Deborah Ancona et al., encourages leaders to focus on sustainability.

“Rocket Fuel” resonates with this idea, advocating for a balanced leadership approach that ensures long-term success.

14. Empowering Others:

Lydia’s heavy-handed approach disempowered her team, inhibiting their potential. However, as per the HBR article “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” effective leaders empower their teams.

In “Rocket Fuel”, the Integrator’s role includes facilitating and empowering the team to meet the Visionary’s objectives.

15. Nurturing Trust:

Lydia’s unethical actions eroded trust within her team, leading to a dysfunctional organisation. On the contrary, Paul J. Sak’s HBR article, “The Neuroscience of Trust,” shows how trust improves performance and productivity.

In “Rocket Fuel”, trust between the Visionary and Integrator, as well as the team, forms the backbone of a successful organisation.

In conclusion, the story of Lydia Tar serves as a reminder of how hubris, abuse of power, and a lack of ethical standards can lead to personal and organisational failure. At the same time, it highlights the importance of maintaining humility, integrity, and ethical leadership.

We can leverage these insights and apply them to our leadership journey, fostering a positive organisational culture that attracts and retains top talent, while also safeguarding our reputational assets.

Greg Weiss

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Greg authored 3 practical Career Books, and 1 Book helping Visionary leaders scale their businesses. He is one of Australia’s most experienced HR consultants and leading career coaches. He is the founder and owner of Soulidify and Career365. As an entrepreneur/business owner, Greg has experienced first-hand the joys and frustrations of starting and growing one’s own business.

You can find him on LinkedIn or Linktree.