In responding to the announcement on December 21 that FIFA (the governing agency of world football/soccer) had banned him for 8 years, disgraced figurehead and narcissist Sepp Blatter continued to deny reality by declaring, "After 40 years, it can't happen this way."
In truth, his behavior guaranteed no other outcome.
An ongoing criminal investigation, lack of support from corporate sponsors, and allegations of the abuse of migrant workers are some of the many missed signs that Blatter's wretched tenure should have ended long ago.
As Blatter's story lurches towards its inevitable conclusion, I wonder about earlier chapters. What did the much younger Blatter want for the end of his career? When he joined FIFA in 1975, how did he visualize his last days at the office? Did he believe his "final" press conferences would be delivered to a nearly empty room as a shameful punctuation on decades of fraud? Was his goal to become an emblem of corruption and object of ridicule? Probably not.
I doubt Blatter planned to end his career as a punch line, but this is the result of his actions. And it is an overarching leadership lesson: as a leader, and a human being, you must know how you want to finish, and then intentionally work to stay on that path.
It's easy to become a version of Blatter
By many definitions of the word, Sepp Blatter is an innovator. He led the transformation of a minor sporting association into a dominant and lucrative worldwide industry with original business models, expansion into growth markets, and multiple streams of recurring revenue - all by creating an entirely new product: global football. If we temporarily set aside the corruption with which this was achieved, the outline of his work is taught in business schools as an ideal case study.
It's too easy to dismiss Blatter as a buffoon; several entrepreneurs I've spoken to view him as a relic of the "old economy" - the type that won't exist soon due to the transparent power of the Internet. This breezy attitude overlooks that the digital economy can enable fraud and wretched leadership (see: 2008 Financial Crisis), and that technology is not a "solution" to the human condition.
In reality, "bad" people don't always do the bad things in business; many "good" people rationalize their very bad corporate actions for personal gain. You don't have to be Sepp Blatter to behave like Sepp Blatter. You simply have to re-write the rules, a little here and a little there. First bend them, then break them. If you are persistent, after 40 years your corruption can be global. At the very least, the personal and private costs are steep - and often paid for by the ones you love, or those you wish still loved you.
Fortunately, this is avoidable.
Leadership grounded in human depth
Endings are strongly influenced by beginnings, and certainly by the adjustments made along the way. People who start companies need to know, as early as possible, how they want to end up. This focus on "who you want be become" is not mumbo-jumbo: it is the essence of being able to lead.
To confront the challenges and costs of leading others, you must develop tremendous self-belief; to have self-belief, you must know what to believe about yourself. To know as much as possible about yourself, you must discover your full human depth. This core will be your reservoir of strength and determination. With effort, self-awareness, and the help of others, you can avoid Blatter's fate. (Michael Maccoby writes persuasively on this process.)
Entrepreneurs and Founder CEOs have the ability to create, from Day One, the sort of organizations that reflect what they most value. Startups should be the best models of invention, organizational behavior, and leadership; entrepreneurs can be the "good" people who also do good things while inspiring others to do the same.
A New Year's Resolution
My father recently referred me to a quote by the writer Gustave Flaubert: "The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe." The same is true of true leadership: the art of leadership is discovering and becoming what you believe.
I encourage your leadership resolution for the New Year to include the affirmation, or discovery, of who you want to become; the recognition of the cost to you of falling short; and the commitment to seek help and persevere with the required work to become just that.