Cristiano Ronaldo is thought by many to be the greatest player of the biggest sport in the world. The soccer superstar is the third highest-paid athlete in the world ($108 million annually, with a $1 billion dollar lifetime Nike contract). No athlete has more Twitter followers than Ronaldo's 76.4 million.
Lots of talent, lots of money, lots of followers.
Oh, and greed-driven tax fraud. And an abuse of his massive platform.
As The New Republic reported, the global megastar showed up to a Madrid court last week with lots of drip, as the kids say; bedecked in a high-fashion black jacket, slick sunglasses, diamond earrings, and bedazzling smile. He was there for the minor inconvenience of pleading guilty to tax fraud for which he'll gladly pay a $21.6 million fine to avoid a two-year jail sentence.
Ronaldo originally repeatedly denied any allegations of tax fraud, but has since admitted to four occasions of taking revenue from image rights and funneling it through low tax companies in low tax countries to avoid paying taxes in Spain.
After his court appearance, he was seen smiling, signing autographs, and even said these three incredibly low-EQ words to a crowd of reporters:
"Everything was perfect!"
He got on his private jet and posted this picture to his adoring fans, complete with smiley face and thumbs-up emojis.
A perfect day, apparently.
To me, it reads not like a thumbs up, but a thumbed nose to anyone who has ever paid taxes. To anyone who hasn't lost complete perspective and isn't driven by greed.
How could anyone choose the words "everything was perfect" following admission to a major crime, letting down tens of millions of fans who admire him, and putting on a display of privilege? Not to mention, Ronaldo is also currently under investigation for alleged rape.
What an insult.
There are so many other ways he could have handled it. Show some remorse. Address the hard working, tax-paying citizens who shell out increasingly absurd amounts to watch him play. Demonstrate some emotional intelligence. Act with humility rather than signing more autographs.
It got me thinking about how poisonous it is when revered leaders fail to take accountability. If you follow Ronaldo's example, you'll achieve these three damaging effects:
1. An "Everyone for Themselves" Vibe
It's venomous for a culture when no one steps up to own anything. Productivity takes a major hit, as you don't move on from mistakes quickly enough, dragging morale right down with it.
Accountability is even more critical for entrepreneurs who don't have time for anything other than owning up, fixing it, and pressing forward in the name of progress. Blame shifting/dodging takes too much time and energy.
2. A Paranoid Environment
Leaders who show a lack of accountability suddenly cast a shadow on every other part of their life because it speaks to their character. You can't help but cast a doubtful eye on their future actions, no matter how noble they may be in reality. Which leads me to my next point...
3. Irreparably Eroded Trust
Maybe soccer fans are different, and all will be forgiven. Maybe not.
When I think of my days in the corporate world, I never, ever, forgot when a leader failed to stand up and shield others from blame. I never, ever trusted them again, either. In the business world, and often in life, it's very difficult to recover from a major breach of trust.
So even when "everything was perfect" doesn't apply for you as a leader, use your platform--whether you're speaking to a handful of people or 76 million of them--to make a positive impact by being accountable.