2011 was a bonfire of the vanities of leaders losing influence. From sex scandals and financial fiascos to arrogance and morality missteps, the year was packed with one powerful public demise after another. Why did these leaders fall so hard? They confused influence with manipulation. Influence is a balanced approach to changing hearts, minds and results, while manipulation is fueled by a self-centered agenda. Followers quickly turn on leaders when they feel they're being played.
With that in mind, here are my picks of the 10 Least Influential People of 2011:
1. Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix. Hastings' influence took a massive hit when he announced two decisions that infuriated customers – a 60% price hike and his now-aborted plan to separate on-line and DVD rentals. 800,000 subscribers revolted by cancelling their subscriptions. Once known for his innovation and staggering growth, Hastings is now struggling to rebuild public trust after investors abandoned the company and shares plunged. Netflix's market capitalization is currently a quarter of what it was before the missteps.
2. Herman Cain, GOP Presidential Candidate. The Herminator's ego got the best of him. First of all, bestowing a nickname upon yourself is never a good sign and smacks of narcissism. It wasn't just the sexual harassment allegations or the alleged 13-year affair that brought his campaign to a screeching halt. In the end, Cain's "CEO of Self" pet phrase rang hollow. His extra-marital activities revealed a grandiose sense of self-importance, an apparent belief that rules don't apply to him, his impulsiveness, and a lack of morality when no one's looking.
3. Rupert Murdoch, Media Mogul. The News of the World phone hacking fiasco revealed that Murdoch's now-shuttered newspaper empire was more than just unethical – it was colossally creepy. Murdoch and his son James have been hauled before Parliament, journalists have been arrested, shareholders have revolted and the scandal is still unfolding. You know you've lost influence when your wife has to jump in front of a pie-wielding attacker to save you. On the plus side, this big kahuna of privacy issues opened our eyes to how easy it is for others to siphon our private information.
4. (tie) Penn State Leadership. The Jerry Sandusky sex scandal revealed how deeply the school's football-first culture had ran amok. Head coach Joe Paterno wielded more influence in Happy Valley than the school's entire leadership team. Penn State football made more than $53 million in profit last year, leading the institution to turn a blind eye towards Sandusky's disgusting behavior. Despite the accusations swirling around Sandusky for years, Penn State's leadership team stayed silent for fear of damaging the too-big-to-fail brand that football built. How's that working for them now?
4. (tie) Jerry Sandusky, Former Penn State Assistant Football Coach and Founder, The Second Mile. (See above.)
5. Carol Bartz, Former CEO, Yahoo. "Hello?" "You're fired." Being axed over the telephone is a sure sign that your influence has gone south. Calling your fellow board members "doofuses" in an interview afterwards sealed the deal. Insiders believe it was a fitting end to Bartz's tenure, saying she decimated the culture during her rocky two years at the top. When Bartz began in 2009, many hoped the tough-talking leader could whip the company into shape. But instead of a being turn-around chief, she failed to improve revenue growth and Yahoo lost even more eyeballs and advertising dollars to Facebook and Google.
6. Jon Corzine, Former CEO, MF Global. A pile of money walked off from MF Global and along with it, Corzine's reputation. This compelling story has become the "Where's Waldo" of client cash, with $1.2 billion missing. Corzine, also the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, has recently been on a tour of congressional hearing rooms, testifying that he swears he doesn't know where the money is. He has come across as unprepared and confused, with a shocking inability to answer even the simplest of questions. Amnesia, anyone? For the sake of the clients, let's hope Corzine's cluelessness isn't contagious.
7. Andrea Jung, CEO and Chairman, Avon. The head of the world's largest direct-sales cosmetics company was forced to relinquish her CEO title in a shake-up after years of sluggish sales. Profit is off, cash is short and Avon's share price plummeted 40% this year. If that's not bad enough, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Avon engaged in improper communications with analysts and, separately, bribed officials abroad where the company generates 80% of its revenue. Jung's predecessors are leading a movement to prevent her from staying on for two years as Chairman.
8. Anthony Weiner, Former New York Congressman. The disgraced politician's career crashed and burned in an embarrassing scandal that forced his resignation. Weiner, who had an eye on higher office, exposed his lower naughtiness with his cell phone lens. The usual mix of sex and power didn't trip up this leader – he was taken down by the impulsive risks of Twitter pics. His photos will live forever on the Internet, alongside Brett Favre's. Unlike Herman Cain's scandal, this made-for-the-tabloids headline – dubbed "Weinergate" – was apparently sexless, but humiliating enough to undermine his influence.
9. Alec Baldwin, Actor. Baldwin's fracas with a flight attendant over his desire to continue playing a game on his phone prior to wheels up trumped his fellow flyers' ability to get airborne. Once again, Baldwin revealed his selfish side, furthering cementing his reputation as a jerk. Public backlash was so swift and strong that it caused him to de-activate his Twitter account. The winner in this dust-up was the dork-chic app called "Words with Friends." Too bad Baldwin wasn't friendly with the American Airlines crew who kicked him off the plane – or with his fellow passengers who were delayed in reaching their destination.
10. Kim Kardashian, Reality TV Star. The speedy demise of Kardashian's televised "Fairytale Wedding" has been a nightmare for her public relations team. Alas, courting adulation is risky business. Her marriage to athlete Kris Humphries lasted just 72 days, but the negative impact will span far longer. Her quick pullout stirred up a media storm due to the enormous amount of marketing and money involved. The Kardashian brand has taken a hit, eroding its influence over many fans who are now convinced that the so-called reality show marriage was a sham. Before death do the Kardashians and their show part?
Those are my picks of the worst influencers alive of 2011. Who are yours?