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Martin Shkreli Reminds Us the Minimum isn’t Enough

About once a week I see some sort of update in the legal case involving Martin Shkreli.

You remember Shkreli, right? He’s the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who was torched by the flames of public opinion last year when he jacked up the price of the cancer-treating drug Daraprim.

It’s interesting to me, however, that the criminal charges Shkreli faces aren’t (as of right now) related to the way he and his company were pricing the drug. Instead, they’re all about the way he moved money around from his companies to cover investors’ claims from failed hedge funds. Yet, Shkreli’s reputation as a villain stems largely from his decisions as a CEO of Turing, not the allegations of financial fraud.

All leaders need to adhere to legal standards, of course, but the Shkreli saga reminds me that adhering to the basics is not enough. Our reputation as a leader – and our success – hinges not on doing the minimum right thing, but on going above and beyond, especially in how we treat the people around us.

There are three simple ways leaders can go beyond what’s legally right in service to the greater good.

Put the interest of others ahead of your own

A CEO – and any leader, for that matter – has a duty to serve a host of congregations. In fact, I believe a leader has a greater duty to serve customers and investors than to serve himself or herself. Shkreli is charged with ripping off his investors, which is pretty much the opposite of serving them. And his price-hike of Daraprim clearly indicated a lack of concern for his customers.

Define your priorities in terms of human worth rather than net worth

When you only focus on net worth, you lose and everyone around you loses, as well. There might be some short-term gains, but they aren’t sustainable. Shkreli liked to use “capitalism” and “maximizing profits for investors” in his defense of raising the price of Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet. But investors are better off when customers are happy and well-served. That’s what he was missing.

Treat people the way you would want to be treated

It’s a tried and true expression, but one that many leaders forget, especially when dealing with the day-to-day pressures of life and work. Shkreli, of course, was not just the antithesis of this golden rule, but he took rudeness to the extremes. He spent much of his time on social media bragging about himself. He was dismissive of other people’s ideas. (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump all criticized him; and in response to Clinton’s call for him to lower the drug price, he simply tweeted, “LOL.”) And he spent millions on a rare album that music fans were desperate to hear, then said he had no plans to even listen to it.

For me, those three concepts are more basic to leadership than any legal standards Congress could enact. If we implement those tenets in our leadership, we build trust through transparency and our influence will make a positive difference.

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