Today a final verdict on the Lance Armstrong doping scandal came down.
It was not issued by a court or other government body.
The verdict was announced by a company, Nike. And it will be accepted as the authoritative finding.
Armstrong has been defiant in the face of an avalanche of evidence. His lawyers did their best to tarnish the credibility of the traditional authorities.
And yet, when a private, for-profit entity rendered its verdict, Armstrong folded his tent. He has stepped down from the chairmanship of his flagship, cancer-fighting philanthropy, LiveStrong,
By all accounts, it was the decision of Nike to release Armstrong that was the coup-de-gras. As reported in USA Today:
When Nike drops an athlete, you know he or she has done something terribly, irreparably wrong. That’s because it has supported, defended and continued to pay all kinds of athletes in trouble, among them Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre.
But this morning, Nike released a stunning statement, saying it has been “misled” by Armstrong:
“Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”
21st Century Authority is Evolving
A generation ago, Armstrong might well have resigned in shame after the release of documentation from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Or, he might have walked after former colleagues corroborated those findings.
Instead, it was the finding of a corporate sponsor, followed by others, that has brought the matter to a conclusion.
What does this say about the evolution of credibility and authority in the 21st century?
It’s All About the Relationships
Nike has established unique brand value in its relationships with customers. As a result, all aspects of the company–from its supply chain practices to its product design–are held to a corresponding, high standard.
Armstrong, unrepentant and defiant, ultimately faced the realities of 21st century transparency. Lawyers cannot stand between him and Nike in the company’s evaluation of their relationship. There is no Fifth Amendment privilege or other protection such as is afforded a criminal defendant.
In turn, Nike could not allow Armstrong to disrupt its relationship with its customers and other stakeholders. Nike had no alternative but to just do it–to hold Armstrong to a standard of integrity that would withstand the scrutiny of involuntary transparency.
Character is a Competitive Advantage–Character Defects Can be Lethal
Serve to Lead maintains that character is a competitive advantage in the new world of 21st century leadership.
A tragic, chastening corollary follows; a character defect can be lethal.
Nike has acted decisively to staunch the bleeding.
Now, all eyes will be on Lance Armstrong.
Lance Armstrong and Nike and 21st Century Leadership