Three Leadership Lessons From The Komen vs. Planned Parenthood Debacle...What Could We Learn?


Nearly 3 years ago, I ran a 5K in my hometown of Boston on the behalf of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I was proud to wear my pink (although I much prefer the color red over pink!) and to run with men and women who were raising money to find a cure for breast cancer. This occasion stirred up great feelings of how we as women can lead the charge for fellow women who have either survived or succumbed to breast cancer. So when the firestorm news blitz coverage hit Komen this past week, I was really surprised to learn of Komen’s decision to cease funding for breast exams provided by Planned Parenthood, another stalwart women’s health leader. Why would a leader in breast cancer research funding, THE BREAST CANCER AWARENESS CHAMPION of sorts…why would Komen…a leading women’s health organization kick another women’s health organization in the gut?

I thought to myself…what kind of Leadership is this?

Davia Temin, a Forbes Magazine online contributor wrote an interesting article last week entitled How To Destroy A Reputation In Less Than A Week: Komen And Planned Parenthood.  Davia writes “most crises of this nature arise when organizations go into deep states of denial. They figure that no one will notice their actions, or if they do notice, the public will either agree with them, or lose interest quickly, so that any protests will be easily surmountable. Just tough it through, they think…and it will go away, and we will get our way. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. Clearly, it did not work for Komen. And now they made another about face.”

This week, I learned a lot about being a leader and what kind of leadership matters. Here are three lessons that I would like to share:

#1.  Leaders Must Always Think Through Major Decisions And Weigh All Options
I am sure the Komen team thinks that their decision to cut Planned Parenthood’s funding for breast exams was not taken lightly but clearly did not calculate the “what if” on the other side of the decision. As leaders, we must always think through the consequences of our actions and evaluate all scenarios before we arrive at a final decision.

#2. When A Leader Is Going Down In Flames Other Leaders Must Not Stoke The Fire
I learned a lot about grace, dignity and perseverance from Planned Parenthood this week as they did not take this week’s events as an opportunity to kick Komen while they were down. Instead, they rallied their supporters not into supporting a political agenda but to champion women’s health.
The women who show up at a clinic needing a breast exam or mammogram– don’t really care who provides service. They don’t care about the political or Political arguments about the organization providing the service. All they want is to be healthy, cancer free and have the service free of charge because they cannot afford to pay for it themselves. When we make decisions that affect other people, we must examine the entire food chain and the effects throughout the entire process – not just our reputation or brand.

#3. Every Leader Makes Mistakes, So Just Atone, Correct Course and Keep It Moving!
I think this lesson is most important for me as a leader. Throughout my years as a leader, I have said and did things that were not in my best judgment. So when one makes a mistake as a leader, it is important to admit it. I am not so sure that Komen truly admitted that they made a mistake but their website statement does issue an apology that reads “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.”
Changing course is often hard to do, but leadership demands and expects that we will all make mistakes and thus we must walk that long road back to pick up the pieces where we made the wrong turn.

Your leadership depends on your continuous learning. Take a few lessons from the Komen misfortune and keep moving forward.

Karen Owens is the CEO of Karen Renae Owens Consulting LLC, which specializes in Leadership Development Workshops and Seminars.

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