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Four elements of the Petraeus scandal that pique our fascination Add to ...

The Bathsheba Syndrome: A biblical and less-hackneyed way of saying that power corrupts people of authority. The syndrome refers to the cautionary tale of power of (the original) King David, who ordered a soldier, Uriah the Hittite, on a suicide mission so he could seize his wife, Bathsheba. The plot involved a massive cover-up, a network of lies and duplicity that nearly undoes the great warrior and poet as a great leader. It’s a cautionary tale told at many military academies. “Along with a steady diet of books on leadership and management,” says a New York Times article, “the reading list at military ‘charm schools’ that groom officers for ascending to general or admiral includes an essay, The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders.”

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Naughty male mentor: “Powerful man commits adultery with younger, admiring woman; fiercely intelligent wife is both pitied and scrutinized; media firestorm; career fallout – one aspect of this story cuts to the core of women’s broader career success,” writes Jenna Goudreau in Forbes.com. Ms. Goudreau points out other offenders, including Suzy Wetlaufer and former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Their affair ended Ms. Wetlaufer’s tenure as editor of the Harvard Business Review and Mr. Welch’s 13-year marriage. Other notable examples are News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng, as well as Newt Gingrich and his eventual wife, Calista. The writer points out that women need powerful mentors to succeed and, for better or worse, the majority of powerful leaders continue to be men.

The tragic hero with a fatal flaw: “It is my own opinion,” writes Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in the Huffington Post, “that an American hero like David Petraeus, who served his country with distinction and honour, deserved better than to leave his post in humiliation and ignominy, even if his own immoral actions brought it upon himself.” Part of a similar argument contends that high-ranking members of the military are held to impossibly high standards of conduct while looking after their nation’s most gritty business – a delicate balance, to say the least, and with huge Shakesperean stakes if they go amiss. In the end, leaders like Mr. Petraeus and General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, now at the centre of an investigation over “inappropriate communications” with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, risk losing the magnitude of their accomplishments to careless human foible.

Rarity of the biographer-subject consummation: As Slate’s Brian Palmer writes, journalists are more likely than biographers to carry on concealed sexual relationships with their subjects. But rarely does an author go beyond his or her platonic admiration and get busted. “[Paula] Broadwell probably isn’t the first biographer to carry on a sexual relationship with a high-profile subject at the height of his or her fame, but she is the first to be caught.”

 

 

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