Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Why Do Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson Misbehave?

Why celebrities believe they are above the law.

Why do celebrities, such as Lindsay Lohan, think that they can break the law and get away with it? Why do famous people (OJ Simpson, Phil Spector, Mel Gibson, and many, many others) break the law, think they can get away with it (and sometimes do)? A lot of the reason is related to the dynamics of power.

Famous people become "intoxicated" by the power and prestige that comes with their celebrity status. They snap their fingers, and a slew of attendants, jump to their every command. Their extraordinary power leads them to believe that they are special and that the rules that apply to everyone else simply don't apply to them. Leadership scholar and philosopher, Terry Price, calls this "exception-making." Celebrities begin to believe that they should get "a free pass" to misbehave.

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Consider the stories of Lohan's outrageous behavior at nightclubs, and the fact that she believed she was "above the law" and didn't have to follow judge's orders because "she was working on a film." Imagine if you or I ignored court orders because we were working! Mel Gibson's racist rants are also examples of this belief that he is somehow an exception to the social rules that govern the rest of us. Tiger Woods and his outrageous sexual escapades is another example.

What is the antidote to the poisoning effect of celebrity and power? It is humility. Celebrities and powerful people need to realize that the power and fame does not excuse them from following the law or societal standards. Many powerful and famous people do not become intoxicated by power, and are able to keep their feet on the ground. They know that if it weren't for a good deal of luck, they wouldn't be where they are now.

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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