By now you’re probably aware of Alaska’s ex-senator Ted Stevens’ conviction on seven counts of filing false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms. You’re also probably aware that Attorney General Eric Holder asked U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to drop the charges. Why? Because in reviewing the case, Holder’s team discovered that the lawyers who prosecuted the initial case withheld critical information from the Stevens’ defense team[i] – a major no-no in the world of criminal proceedings.
This case is remarkable because Holder could have ignored the egregious behavior in which his department had engaged, and let the conviction stand. Instead, he chose to act with integrity, honesty, and transparency, and do the right thing – even though the costs would be high. It put a black mark on the Justice Department, it moved a win into the lose column (something prosecutors hate to do,) and, it robbed the Democrats of an opportunity to embarrass the Republicans (something both parties love to do.) Regardless of my politics, which I won’t discuss here, my hat is off to Holder. It was an act of true leadership because he behaved the way he wants his staff to behave – and the way most citizens would want them to act – with honesty, integrity, and by the rules. With that kind of principle-driven leadership, it seems less likely that there will be the kinds of scandal in this Justice Department that plagued the previous one.
So what can we learn from Holder’s courageous act? I think it comes down to a simple question: Am I acting the way I want my employees to act? Whatever they see me do is a signal to what is the right thing to do. That’s what leadership is all about.
[i] U.S. attorney general ends Stevens prosecution. Holder says prosecutors failed to share key evidence By ERIKA BOLSTAD and RICHARD MAUER, Anchorage Daily News, Published: April 1st, 2009 04:54 AM Last Modified: April 2nd, 2009 01:23 PM, http://www.adn.com/news/politics/fbi/stevens/story/743906.html