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John Baldoni

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review online. His most recent book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.
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Dominique Strauss Kahn, and the price of hubris

Question: Given the nature of the allegations and his past history, could Dominique Strauss-Kahn recover the credibility necessary to lead the IMF, or run for president of France, even if he were found innocent of last weekend’s sexual assault charges?

When I learned that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, chairman of the IMF, had been arrested on charges of sexual assault just before his plane took off for Paris, I gave a silent cheer.

My reaction was not provoked by schadenfreude – feeling good at the misfortune of others. Instead I felt glad that the New York police did not let Strauss-Kahn’s prestigious reputation negate the allegations of a chambermaid who claimed he had sexually assaulted her.

Not long ago such allegations would never have made the news. Men like Strauss-Kahn would escape justice because they are rich and powerful. Such men were considered to be sexual magnets who drew women to them, or they were regarded as men just having fun. Sexual assault, impossible!

Nonsense of course, but in too many places in the world, a woman’s word against a man’s is just that. Words! Fortunately not in New York City!

Sofitel, the hotel chain that runs the hotel where Strauss-Kahn had his encounter with the chambermaid, deserves credit too. When the maid reported her story to her supervisors, they did not brush it aside; they called the police. Furthermore, management has stated that the maid is a good employee.

Strauss-Kahn’s reputation for womanizing is well known and has thus far not prevented him from holding his IMF position. But now that he has allegedly crossed the line as a sexual predator – and is being held without bail – he is history. If allegations about the assault on the chambermaid are true, he will be getting to know New York much better, as a resident of the state’s penal system.

And there is something hubristic in this sordid tale. Strauss-Kahn was nabbed by Port Authority police because he had called the hotel to say that he had left his cell phone behind. That is how police knew he was on the Air France flight on which he was apprehended.

Only someone so consumed with his own ego would give away his location so readily. As a person in a high place, Strauss-Kahn must have thought himself above consequences for his actions. Thankfully other people in high places did not think that way.

This piece is part of a discussion with our On Leadership panel of experts about the IMF’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and whether his credibility is recoverable.

Click here to see our full discussion page, or dive straight into another expert’s perspective by following one of the links below:

Michael Maccoby: Servants not seducers

Michael Useem: Character shattered is career ending

John Baldoni: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the price of hubris

Warren Bennis: An extraordinary exception to the French media's typical languor

Marshall Goldsmith: DSK should never be an elected leader in France

Slade Gorton: Rehabilitation is nearly impossible for Strauss-Kahn

John Baldoni  | May 13, 2011 11:45 AM

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