Lessons for Leaders from Elizabeth Holmes

Melissa J. Hogan
9 min readApr 12, 2022
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

The final episode of The Dropout, the Hulu series about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, hit screens recently. The series is based on the popular podcast of the same name and features Amanda Seyfried channeling the black turtleneck-wearing, Steve Jobs-fawning, doe-eyed, unblinking, Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes. In her 2021 trial for multiple counts of fraud, it became the feminine suit-wearing, recent mother, loving daughter and partner, victim of interpersonal abuse, but then convicted felon Elizabeth Holmes.

Even 20/20 did a special on the series and the scandal.

https://youtu.be/QDE6ronwouk

So what exactly does a former CEO, college dropout, convicted fraudster have to teach us about leadership?

A room of empty colored stools with one person sitting in one
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Plenty. And it may seem basic, but apparently from all of the apologists for Elizabeth Holmes and similar leaders for many years, it still needs to be said.

1. Don’t Lie

This is the lesson we’re supposed to learn as children, but for some it never sticks. And we excuse in our minds the “white lie” or “fudge” and “exaggeration” or “hyperbole.” But the reality is that they’re all a form of lying.

If you’ve seen any of the other recent series featuring prominent pathological liars — The Tinder Swindler or Inventing Anna, for example, you might rationalize it by saying these stories are just examples of lying that “gets out of hand.” But in reality, lying at whatever level dulls our sense of guilt the more we do it. For some, it may go no further. But in we find ourselves in a crunch, in situations where we are at risk of losing something important to us like our career or funds or our reputation, lying may then become the best option to protect ourselves and the things we’ve made more important than our integrity. What are you willing to lie for to protect? Money? How much or how little? Your job? Your reputation? Your network?

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Melissa J. Hogan

Attorney. Advocate. Author, “Afraid of the Doctor: Every Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Managing Medical Trauma.” Find me at melissajhogan.com