The True Prize of a Leader

06/27/2012 01:00 pm ET | Updated Aug 27, 2012

They say a captain is only as good as his team. Yet somehow when things go wrong, it is the captain that is the one that is pilloried for the disaster? What happens to the rest of the team? You could argue, quoting our friendly neighborhood Spiderman that with great power comes great responsibility and therefore if the leader is willing to take the spotlight (not to mention the huge paychecks that come with it), then (s)he must surely also be willing to take the brickbats. I'm talking about the recent trading debacle at JP Morgan and the focus it has put on Jamie Dimon, its astute, high-profile and charismatic CEO.

As far as I am concerned, he has been the beacon of hope and only shining light in what has been a gloomy and dark few years for the global financial services industry. He has been the one investment banker that has emerged from the carnage with his reputation intact; The Last Man Standing, as proclaimed in his recent biography by Duff McDonald. Yet, when news of the $2 billion loss in JPM's chief investment office emerged recently, there were talks of a lack of supervision and the absence of proper governance at this behemoth of a firm. There were whispers and rumors that Dimon had suddenly lost control and that maybe he couldn't keep tabs on his sprawling empire.

Had everyone suddenly forgotten what this man had done at the height of the financial crisis? Did they not recollect the instances when the Fed, the American Central Bank of all institutions, went to Dimon and Morgan, hat in hand seeking help ... Today, Bear Stearns is down, could you buy them out? What about Merrill? Lehman maybe? WaMu; that one you surely could pick up since you don't have a strong west coast presence...

There was a point in time, following the buyout of Bear Stearns, JP Morgan was being referred to as the bank of last resort and Dimon was being compared to the original John Pierpont Morgan and the role he played in rescuing and rebuilding the US economy after the Great Depression. But then, we all know that public memory is short. The good things are easily forgotten, whereas it is only the last mistake that remains at the forefront of peoples' minds. In my limited experience, and from what I've read, it seems that the bigger you are, the more popular you are and more importantly the more successful you are, you are going to be a bigger target. It has always made me wonder, is it just a case of plain and simple jealousy or is there more to it? Is it just a case of selfish human behavior where, on average, we as humans cannot be happy for another person and must instead look to always pull them down?

On a more logical and business front, this massive trading loss brought to the fore a question that has been doing the rounds of Capitol Hill and other legislative houses around the world as to whether there are certain institutions that are too big to fail and hence must be dismantled to smaller, more manageable proportions? Well, taking that a level further, you can then ask the question whether there are some institutions that are maybe just too big to manage? Is there therefore any real merit to all the clamoring for splitting up the financial behemoths to ensure that we do not go through another financial crisis like the one just past (or ongoing)? I mean did Dimon really drop the ball and couldn't get his arms around everything that was going on within the House of Morgan? Or was it just a case of delegating too much authority to a lesser mortal?

My point here is not actually analyzing what happened at JPM or debating the too big to fail argument. Rather, it is looking at how leaders function and more importantly how they are perceived in the face of adversity. I was watching game six of the Eastern Conference Finals the other night; the Miami Heat were facing the prospect of elimination and yet, all the focus was on 'The King' LeBron James and the kind of Heat he would face if they did indeed get eliminated. Now, I'm thinking to myself, there are four other players with him on the court, several others on the bench, a head coach and a vast support staff, yet the blame for the loss would be rested squarely on his shoulders ... Why? Remember, he has a certain Dwayne Wade on his team, a former championship winner and Finals MVP, another all-star in Chris Bosh, yet for some reason LeBron would be the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. For years I watched the same phenomenon with the Indian cricket team and their star batsman, Sachin Tendulkar. For all his achievements, all his runs, all his dedication and commitment to the team, it would still be a case of 'Tendulkar didn't score enough runs' or 'Tendulkar didn't stay till the end; he threw his wicket away'. Well, what were the other 10 members doing? Why aren't they equally responsible for the loss?

I can only conclude that being born with the talent and skill that takes you to the epitome of success may not always be a good thing ... It can be a boon as much as a curse. I've been reading JFK's biography by Christopher Matthews. In the book he talks about how we are born with certain gifts and during the course of our life, acquire certain skills that become our prizes. Well, I think in the case of leaders, given the often irrational and unreasonable judgments they must be subject to, tolerance is one skill that I hope they have picked up along the way, because it sure as hell can be a prize!