The Best And Worst Moments In Leadership In 2014

From “trusting karma” to championing workplace acceptance, here are the moments in leadership that made us cringe and made us cheer.

For anyone paying attention, 2014 offered a crash course in the dos and don’ts of leadership.


While we mourned the loss of Maya Angelou, we also saw some rising stars emerge as promising luminaries. We overheard some cringe-worthy party banter from executives and witnessed the dastardly disorganization of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Some leaders did a better job than others this year.

Five of the Worst Moments In Leadership In 2014

There were a ton of disgraceful moments in leadership in 2014, with dishonorable mentions including the apathetic and abysmal leadership in Ferguson, Mo., Tinder’s alleged sexual harassment of cofounder Whitney Wolfe, and the now infamous “Bridgegate” scandal mismanaged by New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie. But these super bonehead moments were by far some of the worst:


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Responds To Domestic Violence Disgracefully

On February 15, former NFL team Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his future wife Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator, knocking her unconscious. Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges in March and was handed a mere two-game suspension by the NFL in July.

The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely in September only after surveillance footage of the incident became public. U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones has since overturned Rice’s indefinite suspension and criticized Goodell for the league’s consistent mishandling of domestic violence cases. According to Jones, Goodell’s failure to realize the severity of the case until the damning video emerged “speaks to (the NFL’s) admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely.”


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Tells Women Not To Ask For Raises

“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise. That might be one of the initial ‘super powers,’ that quite frankly, women (who) don’t ask for a raise have. It’s good karma. It will come back.”


During the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, Nadella’s tone-deaf advice–and his notion that women should place their trust in a system that pays them 78 cents on a man’s dollar–quickly spurred a firestorm. Nadella quickly apologized in an internal memo, but to many the damage had already been done.

Uber’s Values Are Inconsistent With Its Model

Customers, drivers, and journalists alike have all cried foul on Uber this year, and the overarching issue seems to be Uber’s trust issues.

On numerous occasions, the company has been accused of shameful opportunism with its surge pricing model, which Uber says is an automated system that calculates fares based on demand. Recently, the company’s minimum fare out of the Central Business District of Sydney, Australia hit $100 as people tried to flee the scene of a hostage crisis.


And after senior vice president Emil Michael suggested during a dinner with reporters that the company hire researchers to dig up dirt on its media critics, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s hollow Twitter apologies have done nothing to assuage the growing feelings of distrust.

Rap Genius Cofounder Mahbod Moghadam Annotates The UCSB Killer’s Manifesto

When Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree near UC Santa Barbara in May, he left behind a bizarre autobiographical manuscript titled “My Twisted World.” His manifesto was soon pasted to a sub-site of then Rap Genius, a site that breaks down text with line-by-line annotations.

Cofounder Mahbod Moghadam left a series of inappropriate annotations on the killer’s manifesto, including comments like “beautifully written.”


Kudos goes to cofounder and CEO Tom Lehman for pushing Moghadam out of the company, saying “Mahbod Moghadam, one of my cofounders, annotated the piece with annotations that not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny.”

Photo: Flickr user Anna Fayet

American Apparel’s Board Took A Soft Stance On Sexual Harassment

Dov Charney was finally fired as American Apparel’s CEO and president this month after he was suspended in June for alleged misconduct and violations of company policy. But the executive had been in hot water for several years for allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment by his employees before the board took action.

As psychologist Art Markman points out, the fact that the board took so long to act means that many employees had to work under conditions of harassment for a long time before anything was done.


Five of the Best Moments In Leadership in 2014

It wasn’t all bad, this year we saw several moments when leaders shined, like all the federal judges who struck down bans on gay marriage and Emma Watson’s empowering speech about feminism and gender equality.

Some of our favorite moments in leadership proved that you can lead with grace, even under some of the worst circumstances.

Photo: Flickr user Scott L

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Stands Against Racism And Discrimination

After then NBA team the Los Angeles Clippers owner Donal Sterling was recorded making racist comments, relatively new NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the league for life, fined him $2.5 million, and forced him to sell the team.


According to ESPN, Silver’s actions were the harshest penalty ever issued by the league and one of the stiffest punishments ever given to an owner in professional sports.

“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views,” Silver said at the time. “They simply have no place in the NBA.”

Especially during a year that also saw another professional league’s commissioner fail, it was refreshing to see leadership that holds its entire institution accountable.

Photo: Flickr user DFID – UK Department for International Development

Malala Yousafzai Wins A Nobel Peace Prize

Since the then 15-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai was targeted and shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school, her mission to increase girls’ access to quality education worldwide has only increased, reaching a more global audience.

Today The Malala Fund, which Yousafzai cofounded with 25-year-old Shiza Shahid, is focused on addressing the barriers that keep girls out of schools. In October Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 along with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

To date, only 16 women have won the Nobel Peace Prize, and at 17-years old Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel winner in the award’s history.


Tim Cook Champions LGBT Openness In The Workplace

During his tenure at Apple Tim Cook has established himself as an advocate for human rights and workplace equality by publicly supporting initiatives like the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

His open letter this past October disclosing that he is “proud to be gay” establishes him as the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company and is an inspiration to the many LGBT Americans who still face discrimination at work.

According to a recent Human Rights Campaign survey, more than half of all LGBT workers hide their orientation at work, which was part of the reason Cook wrote his letter. “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy,” he wrote.


Pope Francis Brokers Peace And Understanding

After President Obama announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba earlier this month, some people were surprised to learn that Pope Francis played an instrumental role in facilitating discussions.

Last summer Pope Francis sent personal letters to President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro urging them to “initiate a new phase in relations.” He then invited U.S. and Cuban officials to the Vatican in October to have talks at which the breakthrough was reportedly made.

“I want to thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is,” Obama said when he made the announcement.


During his brief tenure, the pope has been characterized as a man with diplomatic boldness, and he has tried to broker other international truces between Israel and Palestine, North and South Korea, and within the Middle East.

TV Producer Shonda Rhimes Empowers Women

When screenwriter, director, and producer Shonda Rhimes received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award recognizing her as a leader in the industry, she told the room that she hadn’t broken through any glass ceilings. Instead she credited the many women who came before her and thanked them for hitting the glass, crashing back down, and hitting it again before the cracks appeared.

“Look around this room,” she said. “It’s filled with women of all colors in Hollywood who are executives and heads of studios and VPs and show creators and directors. There are a lot of women in Hollywood in this room who have the game-changing ability to say “yes” or “no” to something. 15 years ago, that would not have been as true.”


What did we miss? Tell us in the comments what you thought were the best and worst moments in leadership this year.


About the author

Rachel Gillett is a former editorial assistant for’s Leadership section. Her work has been featured on,, and elsewhere


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