This is the final post in a three part series on trust. The first post was an interview with Chris Brogan, the second was on creating a No Spin Zone, and today’s post is on the topic of Broken Trust. Some of my work happens to be in the field of crisis management, and given the recent calamity surrounding what seem to be an ever increasing number of personal and professional indescretions by our elected officials, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what I’ve learned over the years. While I have long made it a point not to sit in judgment of others, as it is very difficult to properly connect the dots from afar, it is my belief that there is something to be learned from any gross error in judgment. In today’s post I’ll attempt to stay away from personal accusations and will provide you with my thoughts about what can be learned from such tragic and public mistakes.
Regardless of how you feel about the recent actions of South Carolina Governor Sanford, former New York Governor Spitzer, Blago, and various other senators, congressman, mayors etc., these individuals are after all more than businessmen and politicians, they are human beings who are husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and community members. Even when the facts stack-up against someone, and there is no doubt as to fault or guilt, I always find it tragic when people’s lives are reduced to personal attacks, gossip and innuendo. Humans are imperfect creatures, and I have yet to come across any business leader or politician who can’t rattle off several decisions that they wish they hadn’t made. It just so happens that some mistakes are more public and tragic than others, and for most people, it is much easier to point the finger at those who have been in the spotlight rather than to deal with their own private indiscretions.
It is also important to note that there are indeed at least two sides to every story, and that what often times appears in the media as hard news can actually be editorial commentary that may, or may not, portray the reality of a given situation. Furthermore, just knowing someone who knows someone, will rarely provide you with accurate information relating to the actual events of a situation…especially one veiled in controversy. Where there is controversy you will always find the attack dogs ready at the leash to exploit the situation to the advantage of their personal, political, or professional agenda…sad, but true.
Okay, enough of the platitudes…I’ll climb down from my soap box for a moment and provide you with some thoughts surrounding some of the indiscretions that have dominated our headlines of late. However, I would encourage you not to focus on the issue du jour, but rather to take a step back and read the following commentary with the bigger picture in mind. As you read the following comments think about your perspective on people in general, as well as about how your broader outlook on life:
The Facts: Wrongdoing is certainly wrongdoing, and even the best of intentions don’t justify deviant behavior. That being said, good intentions rarely have anything to do with the breach of trust. We are talking about public officials that are stewards of the public trust, and regrettably, personal decisions that impeach one’s character matter. Whether mistakes involve acts of a criminal nature, violation of the public trust of constituents, or the emotional devastation to family and friends, these were ultimately conscious decisions that were ‘made’, and the price for such decisions have unending consequences. As you watch a person’s reputation go up in flames, careers come to an abrupt end, and worst of all the emotional and psychological pain inflicted upon family and friends, you cannot help but wonder how a person allows these things to happen.
Why this Happened: From my perspective these matters are rarely as simple as people would like to try and make them. They are rarely due to momentary fit of passion, rage, mental exhaustion or breakdown. Rather you’ll find in most cases that these ‘indiscretions’ have typically gone on for years. Through my reflective lens of observation, they normally appear to be a case of poor decision upon poor decision, further compounded by an out of check ego, pride, arrogance, an addiction to power, and quite possibly an extreme case of narcissism bordering on sociopathic behavior. When all is said and done, I believe you’ll find the consensus opinion to be that most people who fall hard, have lost touch with reality, have become lost in themselves, and almost view themselves to be untouchable or invincible. It is truly sad to watch the transition of someone who was once selfless become totally selfish.
What We Should All Take Away From This: Nobody is invincible or above the law…Some notable quotes also seem to apply here: “pride comes before the fall”, “don’t let your ego write checks you cannot afford to cash”, and “your sins will surely find you out”. In this media and technology driven world nothing will be kept a secret for long. Whether recorded in audio, video, IM files, phone records, credit card history, e-mail archives, personal testimony, or any number of other forensic audit trails, NOTHING IS TRULY PRIVATE. Therefore, my suggestion is that you consider your thoughts and actions carefully when decisioning anything of consequence. I would recommend putting any meaningful decision up against the following litmus test:
- Perform a Situation Analysis
- What is motivating the need for a decision? Who will the decision impact (both directly and indirectly)? What data, information, analytics, research or other supporting information do you have to validate your decision?
- There are no private decisions. Sooner or later the details surrounding any decision will likely come out. If your decision were printed on the front page of the newspaper how would you feel? What would your family think of your decision? How would your shareholders, constituents, and employees feel about your decision? Have you sought counsel and/or feedback before making your decision? When I’m faced with a tough decision, I’ve learned to take pause and ask myself what decision would make my wife and children proud?
- Do the potential benefits derived from the decision justify the expected costs? What if the costs exceed projections and the benefits fall short of projections? What are all the possible rewards and when contrasted with all the potential risks, and are the odds in your favor or are they stacked against you?
- Standing behind decisions that everyone supports doesn’t particularly require a lot of chutzpa. On the other hand, standing behind what one believes is the right decision in the face of tremendous controversy is the stuff great leaders are made of. My wife has always told me that “you can’t go wrong by going right” and as usual I find her advice to be spot-on. Never compromise you value system, your character, or your integrity. Do the right thing.
Lastly, here is some food for thought. It has been my experience that those most critical of certain behaviors likely have their own issues
they’re trying to distract attention from (case in point, Mr. Spitzer aggressively prosecuting prostitution crimes). What we should all be concerned with is not judging others, but rather how we treat other individuals in general during both the best of times and in worst of times. Don’t allow yourself to be a fair weather friend, a gossip, or insensitive jerk. Rather understand that most of us are not privy to the inner thoughts of others and their motivations.
We need to keep in mind that all people make mistakes, and that mistakes alone don’t necessarily make you evil, they just make you human. While it is much easier to avoid disaster than it is to recover from it, perhaps the most important lesson is that it’s not the mistake you make, but what you do with your life after the fact…will your fall define you as a failure and disgrace, or will the event serve as the impetus to correct your thinking and actions such that you redefine yourself to become a better and more trustworthy human being?
Mike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“, and Managing Director of N2Growth.