Think for a minute about those who run your workplace. However large or small the outfit, leaders have a powerful impact on the performance and perception of the organization. For instance, how they interact with those who directly report to them has, for better or worse, a trickle-down effect on how all staff members are treated; their perceived openness, fairness, and ethical standards impinge on the entire culture of the organization. Moreover, in some workplaces, their conduct under public scrutiny can affect the credibility of an entire industry.

In recent months, textbook examples of good and bad leadership have been on show at two of the largest medical agencies in the United States: the National Institutes of Health and the Research and Development Office of the Veterans Health Administration.

Let's start with the NIH. Already under scrutiny on issues such as bioterrorism, sex studies, and stem cell development, late last...

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