Like many folks on the planet today I’m riveted by reports on the death of Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, dictator of Libya. We all know the story from CNN so I won’t repeat it here – the mother of all final smackdowns. What’s interesting to me is what happens when delusion runs its course, and recklessness is held to account.
Here’s a guy who used his oil money to do lots of bad stuff, funded terrorists and killed scores of people; his people, our people, many people. On top of that he also believed his own press releases and surrounded himself with sycophants who told him what he wanted to hear. It appears that at the top of that list were his own sons who coveted a piece of the action, behaved badly on numerous continents and ended up on the losing end of a morality tale, and a gun.
This is a story as old as time; it’s biblical in fact. A leader who drinks his own Kool-Aid and insists that everyone keep drinking it too, to the very end. And so they do, while the rest of us nod our heads and wonder, “What were they thinking?”
For Gaddafi the end came in a drainage ditch under a Libyan highway at the hands of a rebel army. Maybe it was the deep pockets from the sweet Libyan oil that fed his delusion and addiction to power, creating a family business run amok by greed and paranoia. Apparently Gaddafi didn’t get the memo that his time was up, that the world was changing and that eventually people would say “Enough!”
Bottom line, Gaddafi had no checks and balances in his universe; nobody near him willing to call “time out” on his behavior – a suicidal move by any measure. He could do whatever he wanted to, and he did. Libya was his family’s personal cash cow and they milked $20 billion + into Swiss bank accounts with additional investments in companies we all do business with. He enriched himself and his loyalists by pitching the Big Lie to justify his strategy, and enforcing it by fear. Yesterday the broom of history swept him away.
So what can be learned from this sordid tale? One lesson is that people who call themselves leaders will ultimately be held accountable to the people they serve; their communities, their countries, and their enterprises. They may do a lot of damage along the way but sooner or later there will be a reckoning. There is always a reckoning.
Power can corrupt yet power is neutral. People, on the other hand, are not neutral. We each make choices everyday that ripple into the universe and reflect who we are. Those choices may seem mundane yet they matter. Our moral compass exists to help us distinguish confidence from delusion and its consequences.
Whether we’re leaders, followers or spectators it’s still worth remembering what Roman slaves whispered into the ears of their victorious generals returning home from battle … “All glory is fleeting.” So it’s not that Gaddafi didn’t get the memo. It’s just that he chose to ignore it at his own peril, and ours. Delusion will do that.