Whether 'tis nobler in the heart to yield to the slings and arrows of outrageous guilt in the act of misguidance, or be true and forever persecuted for your misdoings, to roughly paraphrase The Bard.
Should our conscience get the better of us? Should we not always be compelled to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or our understanding of the truth, so help us? Or, are we comfortable submitting, reporting, or presenting some version of the truth, something our minions will love us for?
Last year, I wrote a column "Double Bubble". It was a reaction piece to special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, (TARP) Neil Barofsky's fiery and hyper-honest report to Congress in Jan. 30, 2010.
New York Magazine views Barofsky as a Democrat, as someone who knows that his bouts of compulsive honesty don't make him "the most popular person in the Treasury Department," or in the administration. But that, as he sees it, is his responsibility.
"I took this job, and there's only one way to do it, which is without worrying about anything but the truth, and delivering to the taxpayer what they deserve, which is an honest appraisal of what happened."
I was so spellbound by him last year that I had to follow up on him to get an update. I was stunned by two things. One, this year's report had little resemblance to last year's. It was softer, littered with smoother statements veiled in ambiguity and hopeful flowery statements. Two, Barofsky tendered his resignation, effective March 30, two weeks after its publication with no real reason given after two years as special inspector general.
What happened? Can't we handle the truth? Or maybe someone thought we can't handle his truth. Maybe we don't want the truth because it will create chaos and utter dissolve of everything we hold dear and good.
Maybe it is better if we sugar coat ugly truths. Can you imagine how many of us would jump ship if someone actually told us: "Folks, this ship is sinking, but we'd like you to stay invested and we'll just wait and see how long we stay afloat"?
Or is it more humane to say: "Folks don't worry, hit a speed bump but we're right on track to land exactly where we planned, and we're going to get there faster than we thought" and then sink anyway?
The testament of true leadership is communicating confidence and creativity to compel your followers to act, or react, to circumstances and events as you follow the path to your objective, your destiny. It is easy to reveal positive, supportive results that prove your leadership is working. But true leaders shine when they convey failure and disappointment and maintain the confidence of the entity.
Humanity is compassionate when it comes to true humility. Leaders ought to be compelled to sincerely and honestly stand up and shoulder the responsibility of failures, whether those failures are within their control or not.
According to Barofsky, the website last year had millions of hits by Americans eager to read his frank words. Maybe that is a sign. Maybe folks do want the truth and nothing but the truth.
JOANNA MAKOMASKI is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques.
April 1, 2011
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