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Executive Case Study: A Brilliant Lack of Character

Elizabeth Holmes went from billionaire to a net worth of zero in 12 months.

She dropped out of Stanford. Raised millions of dollars from wealthy investors. Became a billionaire before age 30. And promised to change healthcare with her company’s technology. Elizabeth Holmes was the new hero of the technology and healthcare industry. Her face was on the cover of all the big business magazines like Fortune and Forbes. Yet, everything about her business, Theranos, was a lie. Her claims to be able to run hundreds of blood tests with just a drop of blood were false. And investors, doctors and patients were all victims.

Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty, as was her COO and lover, of multiple counts of fraud. Nobody doubts her brains, but now we all know her true self. You can watch the Hulu series called The Dropout or listen to the podcast by the same name to get further details. But the deception was epic, and she fooled a lot of very smart people.

You can speculate about her motives from the start. Did her determination to be a success overcome her sense of right and wrong? Did she always know her technology didn’t work? Or did she truly believe in it, and over time sacrificed her Integrity in larger and larger ways until she felt there was no way out except to keep lying?

We may never know exactly how she became the poster child for brilliance combined with a lack of character. But we can learn some lessons from what we know. Her wild rise and the incredible fall from grace is an example for all of us. Competence, talent, or intelligence do not guarantee someone will be a good leader. Character does.