Edward Snowden: Courageous Leader, or Lack of Morals and Accountability?

Edward Snowden

As a former POW in the camps of North Vietnam, I think my comrades and I saw the purest example of leadership possible. Our senior leaders put their country and their teammates above their own well-being to fulfill their obligations under the law and their sacred trust of being a leader.

In the camps, life and death were at stake, but all leaders hold sway over the destiny of others.

It seems as though we’re seeing the opposite example of pure leaders (poor leadership) highlighted in the media right now, and most of it relates to the government sector.

On Leadership and Accountability

The disclosures of Edward Snowden raise so many issues of leadership and accountability that it’s hard to know where to start.

First and foremost, leadership requires wisdom and honor—wisdom to know what’s right and then the courage to do the right and honorable thing.

At first glance, it would appear that there was a lack of wisdom and accountability on all sides.

Snowden clearly did not figure out a good way to handle what may have been a legitimate concern. A wise and courageous mentor could have helped him figure out a legal and proper way to address his concerns. Now, he will most likely be found to have broken the law and some accountability must come, less “every man will begin to do what is right in his own eyes.”

Governmental Oversteps

On the other hand, it appears that our government has found yet another way to overstep its legal and ethical bounds—the means justifying someone’s desired personal end for gaining more power.

When this begins to happen toward our external enemies, it’s just a matter of time until it gets out of control internally and someone takes advantage of their power to try to wipe out their internal political opponents.

Witness the ongoing IRS scandal. It doesn’t take an honest political scientist long to project what kind of country we will soon be if the party that comes to power decides to use government to minimize their political opponents. Corrupt uses of power most likely will very quickly turn our “fruited plain” into a “banana republic.” ClickToTweetThis

“We need honorable leaders, committed to doing their sworn duty of upholding the constitution, including not just the letter of the law, but the intent of the law.”

Honorable Leadership: ONLY

We need honorable leaders, committed to doing their sworn duty of upholding the constitution, including not just the letter of the law, but the intent of the law.

We need civil servants and political leaders who are committed to serving their country first, above their personal politics and personal ambitions. We need business and community leaders who will do the same in their spheres of work and influence.

Who will stand up and be counted? I’m standing, and hope that in the days ahead you will stand with me.

It begins by being accountable ourselves. It’s not easy or even possible without the help of others who can help us see wisdom. Do you have a team to help you clarify and then do the right thing to fulfill your responsibilities and duties in your job and as a citizen? Will you help me promote the message that we must do the “right” thing and that begins with obeying the laws of the land and putting our country first, and others before selfish goals and ambitions?

Article Source: Edward Snowden: the Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelation​s


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Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
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His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

Image Sources: cadenaser.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Christina on June 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    I think a person needs to examine his/her true & deepest motive in doing even that which at first seems the ‘right’ thing to do. Truly seeking the best for any person or any nation might dictate NOT taking action in the moment.

    I have thought,at times, that ‘leaks’, exposes, etc., are in part wrongly motivated, perhaps borne of a desire to be the one who broke the big story. And it easy to hide that truth from ourselves.

    I’m not saying such was the case with Mr. Snowden, just airing my thoughts in general.

    • Lee Ellis on June 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      You’re right, Christina – motives should always be a valid for any individual or leader. And of course, self-awareness comes first before evaluating the motives of others, i.e. Why am I doing this? Is it self-serving, or is it for the greater good? It’s part of being an authentic leader. (WP Admin)

  2. Vicki Whiting, Ph.D. on June 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Lee, It is difficult for me to imagine the profound leadership you witnessed and acted with as a POW in North Vietnam. Thank you for your strength and courage, and thank you for writing a book to pass the lessons learned on to others. Thank you also for your service to our country.

    With regard to Snowden, the NSA, and the IRS, it seems these are not first and foremos leadership cases. Leadership scholars explain that leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. It seems difficult to make an argument that the IRS employee’s actions were an application of leadership principles. Rather, given a four-fold increase in workload due to a change in US Tax Code, the IRS employees applied a management process – a faulty process, but not a deliberate attempt to influence the behavior of others in an effort to undermine the US Constitution.

    With regard to Snowden and the NSA, yes, there are clear accountability issues. However, using this case as a leadership example is less clear. You note that Snowden along with the US government are both examples of poor leadership. You also note that some recent behaviors taken by “the government” are corrupt uses of power. You further suggest that “the government’s actions” could ultimately lead to “wiping out internal political opponents,” which in turn would lead the US down a path to a “banana republic.”

    As a leadership scholar and professor, I take exception to your implications. First, a “government” cannot be a “leader.” Individuals within the government can act as leaders – both good and bad, but there are roughly 2,790,000 federal workers (2009 census) that make up the US governmental organization, each using their individual leadership behaviors every day. Second, the “courage to do the RIGHT thing” is a value based statement. Because we as individuals hold different sets of values, each of the actors you mention could be acting according to their own set of values, and still believe they are serving their country first. Unfortunately, Hitler was a ‘pure leader’ in as far as he lived according to the values that HE felt were right for HIS country. The world did not agree with him, so other leaders rose up to defeat him. Snowden seems to think he did the right thing, Congress, when voting to approve the Patriot Act, thought they were doing the right thing. And now our system of checks and balances will be applied to revisit decisions and actions taken – from administrative, political, managerial, legal, and governmental perspectives, with each actor in the system applying their own perception of what “RIGHT” action they should follow based on their personal values framework.

    Far from being an indictment of the current state of leadership in the US, this is, instead, an example of how individuals rise up as leaders seeking to influence the behavior of others, and how the group of individuals they seek to influence will determine whether or not to follow.

    • Lee Ellis on June 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      Vicki, I’ve been to your website and read your qualifications. I respect your body of work and your commitment to helping others develop. It’s clear that we share many views about pain and passion. But I’m quite taken aback by the positions you lay out above.

      With regard to the IRS, they have admitted wrong doing and both political parties have agreed there was wrong doing so clearly at some level leadership failed. If you can conclude that this is not a leadership issue and is just a management workload problem (which in itself would be a leadership issue), I would say that would be an “outlier” position and it would seem we are so far apart that there is no room for a discussion.

      Regarding Snowden, he violated his professional commitments and the laws of the United States and has greatly harmed our country. It’s not a question of what “he thinks is right.” It’s a question of law and commitments. There are legitimate ways to address having to perform duties that you think may be illegal. However it seems that you believe people can disobey laws and professional standards just because they think/feel they don’t match their values. If everyone did that, I can only imagine the chaos we would have.

      Our country has been strong and a great place to live because our founders and the majority of our leaders since have been committed to follow some basic principles laid out in the constitution and the laws that were derived from it. We deviate from that at great peril.

      I’m saddened by your conclusions and positions and hope they are not typical of what most “leadership scholars” are feeling and thinking these days. Lee