The Leadership of Herman Cain: Round 2

Republican hopeful Herman Cain enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity following the announcement of his bold 9-9-9 plan, but has recently endured painful missteps, an erosion of support back down to the single digits, and an exit from the race. Let’s look at these missteps and what he could have done to prevent his loss.

In recent weeks allegations of sexual harassment by Cain have come to light, along with assertions that settlements were made with some victims. Mr. Cain vehemently denied that any of these incidents took place, and in fact declared that, “I have never acted inappropriately with anyone. Period.” Really? I think all of us, at least once, have acted inappropriately. For individuals considering candidate Cain I’m sure this was a concern. Strike one: the words and manner of his response begged the question of authenticity.

Enter the next phase where Cain was at a loss for words when asked if he agreed with President Obama on Libya and as he asked how to say delicious in ‘Cuban’ while sipping a fine cup of Cuban coffee. Strike two: if you’re going to be a leader you need a minimal working knowledge of your area.

Herman Cain entered the final phase of his imploding candidacy when a woman named Ginger White came forward and detailed a 13 year affair with Cain. She came prepared with records itemizing phone calls and text messages at all hours of the day. Once again, it was as much what he said in response as how he said it. Strike three: denial and arrogance remain.

Contrast Cain’s response with that of President Bill Clinton on August 17, 1998 when he finally admitted, “I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate…” I believe that it was at that moment when the American public began a shift from reviling the President to accepting that he had made a mistake. It is easier for us to have empathy with someone who makes a mistake and admits to it rather than someone who remains defiant.

So like a rocket ship that fails to reach orbit, Herman Cain shoots skyward on the clear, bold leadership of his 9-9-9 plan, enters a slow arc at the apex, then plummets earthward, gravity tugging on his arrogance and inexperience. Had Mr. Cain said early on that he may have made some mistakes in the past, that he regretted them, was working to do better, and had studied up on foreign policy, I believe he might still be a contender in the Republican primary race.

• Apologize for mistakes with humility and authenticity
• Have a good working knowledge in the areas you are leading

Keywords: leadership, humility, authentic

• ABC News. (1998, August 17). Bill Clinton Admits Affair [Video file]. ABC News. Retrieved from
• Geiger, K. (2011, November 17). Herman Cain: ‘How do you say ‘delicious’ in Cuban?’ [Video file]. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
• Journal Sentinel. (2011, November 14). Herman Cain on Libya [Video file]. Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Retrieved from
• The Associated Press. (2011, November 8). Cain: ‘Never acted inappropriately with anyone’ [Video file]. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

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