By Tom Davidson
When a stranger lies, cheats or steals, they can’t be trusted. But when some you know lies, cheats or steals from you, it goes beyond mistrust to betrayal. What makes the IRS a case of major betrayal is the degree to which its leaders and managers stuck it to the people. Read more about what I think of this case:
The still-unraveling IRS scandal is only one of several current cases of broken trust in government, and it’s one for the ages. The IRS scandal will leave a nasty legacy of mistrust that will be studied and debated for decades. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) put it succinctly this week on Meet the Press when she said, “It will take a generation to rebuild trust in the federal government.”
But don’t many people already mistrust big government? Don’t some people mistrust big business just as much or more? Can’t we find examples of maleficence and misdeeds like this in any sector of the economy? What makes this scandal so bad that it surpasses the tipping point from run-of-the-mill to insurmountable?
It’s bigger because it’s betrayal.
When a stranger lies, cheats or steals, they can’t be trusted. But when some you know lies, cheats or steals from you, it goes beyond mistrust to betrayal. What makes the IRS a case of major betrayal, not just eroded trust, is the degree to which its leaders and managers stuck it to the people – personally.
• You want to know what happened? I forgot.
• You want transparency? I’ll plead the Fifth Amendment.
• You want documentation? We don’t have any.
• You want to know what I was doing at the White House so often? An Easter egg hunt.
• You want to know what we’re doing about it? We’re looking into it.
We take these words and deeds personally, not just because of their blatant disregard for justice and abuse of power (which has become routine) but because of their arrogance, hypocrisy and defiance toward us, the American people (which is exceptional).
As a leader in any organization, know that the people you affect are already skeptical of someone in your position. You occupy a place of power and authority that they have seen misused many times, and sadly, their expectations of you are low. It’s not personal; at least not yet.
Because of this, you can’t be run-of-the-mill. You have to be an exceptional leader to overcome the understandable skepticism that exists at all levels of government and the private sector. It’s not personal until you lie, parse words, shade the truth, point your finger at them, say one thing and do another, live by your own rules, shift blame and do whatever is necessary to avoid accountability yourself.
That’s when you’ve passed the Rubicon from mistrust to betrayal. That’s why the IRS will be remembered as the tipping point for a generation. And that’s why you have to be exceptional as a leader, so you don’t lose the mantle of leadership for a generation, which is your lifetime.