We live in an era of unprecedented uncertainty. At least that is what we are led to believe. Yes, the economy is sputtering at best. Jobs are at risk or non-existent. Europe could implode financially. The Middle East could implode politically. Depending on your political views, either the left or the right is about to take the country over a cliff from which there is no return. The challenges we face are certainly more expansive in their scope, but unprecedented uncertainty? Hardly. Do you believe that the level of personal anxiety is any higher today than that which existed during the Cuban Missile Crisis; World War I or II; the Civil War; the Great Depression; or life in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War?
The Ethics Resource Center (www.ethics.org) released its latest National Business Ethics Survey results in January 2012. There is good news and bad news. The good news is that overall reports of misconduct are at historic lows and those who observe ethical misconduct are more willing to report it than in past years.
So what have we learned after nine months of almost continuous campaigning; over twenty debates; and three different contests (with a fourth coming soon)? If you are a leader, the on-going battle between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich offers two important lessons about selling yourself and your ideas.
People trust you, right? Most people won’t look you in the eye and say, “I don’t trust you.” That is especially true if you are in a position of power. But, the symptoms of mistrust are there. It is up to us to see them. You could be experiencing a lack of trust if you are seeing any of the following:
Two months and counting. Truthfully, did you believe that the Occupy movement would have lasted this long? Protests happen all the time in this country. Travel to Washington, DC on virtually any day and you will see some group making their presence felt and beliefs known. The freedom to assemble and communicate your opinion is a sacred right in our country that was founded on a protest movement. And yet, we haven’t seen a movement like since … last year if you understand that the Occupy movement – while different in its goals – was born out of a frustration that shares striking similarities to the Tea Party. So what can leaders learn from a movement that has captured the news and proven to be more than just a group of people gathering to share their dissatisfaction? Here are four lessons:
The U.S. economy is in a self-fulfilling death spiral propelled by mistrust. There is a good chance that the same thing can be said of your industry, your employer, and your career. Growth requires investment, and that requires confidence. You can’t cut your way to sustainable growth. When trust is absent, people naturally protect their immediate self-interest. This will occur even if it leads to their long-term individual and collective undoing.
Someone recently asked me why I use so many examples from political leaders when discussing effective leadership. Isn’t it obvious? Every week elected leaders and candidates give us something that is simply too good to ignore. This week’s example is the brou ha ha over President Obama’s bus trip through the heartland. In case you missed it, a number of people were upset that the President left his “real job” in Washington to ride through the middle of the U.S. on a new tricked out bus while conducting town hall meetings and visiting the Fair. To the President’s detractors, this was a blatantly political act designed to take the focus off of the two leading Republican presidential candidates, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Governor Rick Perry. Bachmann and Perry were also taking time away from their “real jobs” to ride through America’s heartland on tricked out buses attending town hall meetings and Fairs. The only apparent difference is that they were asking people to give them a new job while on the clock at their current job while the President was accused of asking people if he could keep his current job.
Dishonesty is not new, but let’s be honest—our society has raised the rationalization of dishonesty to an art form. When it comes to the truth, we embellish, expand, enrich, soften, shave, stretch, and withhold. We misspeak, pretend, bend, and improve. We are guilty of mistakes, misjudgment, and truthful hyperbole. We exaggerate, spin, filter, and inflate. However, we rarely—or perhaps even never—believe that we are guilty of dishonesty.
What’s not to like? Millions of like-minded people promoting limited federal government, individual freedoms, personal responsibility, free markets, and a return of political power to the states and the people. How could anyone argue that the Tea Party is a bad thing? Oh wait! That can’t be right. The Tea Party is actually millions of small-minded people who engage in racist behaviors and want to take away the power of the federal government to set policy and help society by cutting the funding to every social program that they don’t like. So which is it? The answer is, “It depends on your point of view.”
Timothy Geithner must go for two reasons: (1) he’s expendable: and (2) he has become a distraction. Geithner didn’t vote on a single debt proposal, and yet he played a significant role in the crisis. This is what happens when coaches are fired. The coach isn’t on the field making the plays, and you would think that players would be committed enough to play hard for the common good. But when you can’t fire the team, you often fire the coach. You can’t fire an elected official, and the public and financial markets want someone held accountable. It is unfortunate and perhaps even a little unfair. Sorry Tim, you need to go.