Leadership and Imposters

Yesterday's experience with a political shill on the blog got me thinking. On this day (+1) in 1951, the Royal Canadian Navy found itself in a bizarre disciplinary proceeding. The proceedings were against a young naval surgeon who had recently become somewhat of a national hero. 

It was during the toughest days of the Korean War (er...make that "Police Action"). In the choppiest of seas, the young surgeon was called upon to remove a bullet from a soldier's heart. Shortly after that, he saved a man with severe wounds and collapsed lungs. The medical work was so amazingly successful that newspapers and magazines ran special features on the young wonder surgeon. 

Several folks who bought the magazines noticed the picture layout and the coincidence that the guy in the photograph had the same name as a doctor they knew...Dr. Joseph C. Cyr of Vancouver. They sent copies of the photos to Dr. Cyr. He noticed that the hero not only had his name...he had also attended the same schools, in the same years and got the same grades as Dr. Cyr of Vancouver. He called the Canadian Navy to question the coincidence. 

That brings us to this day (+1) in 1951. They Navy had discovered that the guy who performed those delicate operations on a pitching vessel in primitive conditions was not Dr. Cyr. In fact, he was not a doctor at all. He was a U.S. citizen named Ferdinand Waldo Demara. The Navy was ready to punish to the max...but Demara's fellow officers, the crew and the men he had saved testified he was the most competent, dedicated and sincere man they had ever served with. 

Perversely, the Navy inquiry also produced high praise for Demara in the roles he had served in before he impersonated Dr. Cyr and joined the Navy. He was praised in his role as a superior in a Trappist Monastery, a professor in three different colleges (in different subjects, no less), a jailbird (desertion from previous military service) and, perversely, later as a prison warden. 

In all of the above positions and a dozen more (except jailbird), Demara was an imposter. He had used different names and falsified various diplomas and accreditations that he'd never won. His life was so remarkable and he succeeded at so many things others had trained for years to accomplish that the Press dubbed him - "The Great Imposter" and Hollywood made a movie about him. But while they explained how he got into various positions, they never explained how in every one he was promoted time and again while being praised by co-workers, clients and superiors. 

For that you'll have to go to the Library and dig out Demara's book (also called the Great Imposter). It is full of insights on human nature. The greatest of which Demara called "the power vacuum" (a slight overstatement). Put simply Demara felt that if you were put in charge of picking up cigarette butts you could soon be in management....simply because people don't want responsibility. They like power and pomp and titles and some even like making decisions...but whether in business, medicine, education or religion, folks don't want to take responsibility for their actions and decisions. Interesting theory...but come on!!...this is America!!...this is capitalism!!....who ever heard of management ducking responsibility. 


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