September 10, 2008
What if they find you out?
One of my mentors, Dr. Stanley R. Sherman, a psychologist, told me that in his consulting with leaders, in many professions, one of the big fears was being "found out" - being exposed as having "ship-sinking" flaws. He went on to explain that talented and hard-working people were often anxious that one or more of their traits, performance mistakes or general weaknesses might be fatal for their continued success. The recurring question that hounded these people was simply: if they knew such and such about me, would that cause them to lose confidence in me? Short-hand: will my imperfections derail me?
Even in an ever-increasingly casual world, standards matter. Excellence and morality count and integrity is still the keystone of leadership.
Unconditional love is often discussed by theologians and marriage counselors. Regardless of who you were what you might have said or done, these practitioners offer the promise of clean slates and total acceptance. They encourage penance and other forms of healing actions - on the assumption that human fabric can be mended.
In contrast, Harold Geneen, a powerful and successful business leader, formerly CEO of ITT Corporation said: "If you run out of the money, they will throw you out of the game." Translation, there are certain actions, when taken, can seemingly spell the end of the line. While some charismatic people defy the odds, overcoming their lying, cheating and stealing, most of us mere mortals need to know the ground rules and abide by them or be sidelined, even destroyed.
In business circles, the vetting process is described as due diligence, including the careful checking of personal and professional references while systematically and painstakingly assessing the accuracy of submitted work histories. In politics at all levels, and most especially at the higher levels, the process appears almost medieval. Statements that individuals might have made or words credited to them are taken too often at face value, and then utilized for the game of "gotcha" - with the object of doing harm, at the expense of seeking the truth. Common mistakes - taken out of context - are spun maliciously, creating the nectar that rewards the skullduggery of "stinging partisan bees."
Maybe transparency is the result of what in the 1960s was described as simply "letting it all hang out" and "letting the chips fall where they will." After all, the theologians said it first: "God knows everything, anyway, so why try to hide anything?" With the pervasiveness of the internet, phone records and video-equipment - our sophisticated world seems to have re-discovered what many who grew up in small-towns and local neighborhoods already understand: just about everything said and done is widely known.
Then and now, integrity matters. And, even without unconditional love, folks have to accept others pretty much as they are, because that is reality. And we should all be thankful that our global village still needs imperfect human beings to carry on the work that propels society - in public service and the private sector.