The bigger they are the harder they fall. We heard this phrase when we were children. It was usually uttered by someone facing a larger adversary. It was a phrase to give him confidence. David probably gave a similar battle cry before he confronted Goliath. This comment relates to many areas of our experience; business, politics or in our community work. Not only can we say the harder they fall, but also the more miserable they are when they hit the ground.
Business leaders, politicians, associates and celebrities can be arrogant and obnoxious. They can be self-centered and treat others in a ruthless and dispassionate manner. They may use power as a weapon and hide behind the rules and regulations to justify their behavior. A District Manager from a competitor bragged about firing someone 18 months before their retirement after many years of service. He had a reputation for being heartless and plain old mean. He never looked for mutual benefits in resolving employee problems. He wore his tough demeanor as a badge of honor. People felt he could have worked out something for the man and his family, but he did not.
Eventually, the District Manager received a new and younger Regional Manager. The new guy was not impressed with his draconian methods and blind loyalty. The Regional Manager felt his current performance was not up to par. He could care less about the historically loyal achievements. He was asked to improve his performance, but was subsequently demoted. The new manager however, gave him an opportunity to save face, which was something he never did for others. The Regional Manager let him a sales territory anywhere in the country. I saw the demoted District Manager on his last week prior to moving to Florida. He told me, “I did everything I could for this company and look what they did to me. Young man, be careful and don’t ever give your all to a company, because it may come back to bite you.” I thanked him for his advice, but he was a pitiful sight to behold.
Some authority figures flagrantly disregard ethics and operate, as if they are above the law and will never get caught. When their indiscretion is discovered however, they are on television weeping and asking for forgiveness from their family and their constituents. They are the epitome of sadness; tears are everywhere and the sobbing touches your emotions. The irony is that many of these politicians are on record castigating their colleagues who were caught in similar offenses. Their ruthless nature would suggest they would replace the signs in stores they say “Shoplifters will be prosecuted” to read “Shoplifters will be persecuted.”
Role models who abuse power the most; the haughty, cocky and arrogant ones are the most pitiful on the way down. They did not hear when they were told to be nice to people on the way up, because you will meet the same people on the way down. They did not realize until it was too late that it is better to be humble than to be humbled.
The fallen ones are quick to ask for forgiveness, patience and understanding. They ask for leniency which they frequently denied to others. They somehow feel their situation is different and they should get clemency when others should not, which is linked to their arrogance.
Disgraced individuals elicit mixed emotions from their public. Their constituents may be outraged by the violation of their trust. However, some will caution against being judgmental. They will advise people to forgive, that they are only human and concentrate on the good they have produced. Many of us may be tempted and may give in under a perfect storm when circumstances meet our weakness. To ensure that we are not mired in a hypocritical state, we should consider implementing some of the following strategies.
- Greater self and other awareness – Realize your vulnerabilities and the motives of others. Samuel L. Jackson once noted that women may not be after him for his good looks, but his celebrity was the driver of some of his attention. Power attracts people, so understand how it works.
- Have an accountability partner or mentor – They will serve as a confidante or sounding board. This could be good friend on personal matters. A variation on this theme is to surround yourself with people who are beyond reproach who are not afraid to challenge you when you get out of line or start drifting from proper behavior.
- Control the situation – Focus on how things might look to others. Optics is a word used to describe how it might look to people who don’t know your character or do not know all of the facts. It is not always about your intentions. Innocence can look suspicious under the wrong lights. Evangelist Billy Graham was once said to be adamant about never putting himself in a position where he was alone with a woman other than his wife. There was always another person present. This is not paranoia, but being careful. You might not be morally the strongest person on record, but if you control the optics and the circumstances you can rebuke some of the challenges.
- Calculate the cost of the indiscretion. When you are contemplating the power of the temptation, you may want to consider the itemized cost. In order to deliver a pre-emptive strike, consider the total value of your assets and divide this by the time spent with in the indiscretion. It is best to do this before the temptation puts its hooks in you or you are blinded in the heat of passion. You will arrive at an astronomical rate that would far exceed what you would be willing to pay on the open market.
Recognize that power and temptation are often companions on our walk through life. Power causes excessive pride and is converted into arrogance in us and in our leaders. It feels good to flex our managerial muscle and watch people scurry and respond to our will and selfish demands. The ego may swell when power increases and we experience a feeling of entitlement and invincibility. We may develop the urge to abuse power and convince ourselves that we will not suffer the consequences. If we are not careful we will find ourselves if not on camera, in another setting begging for forgiveness and another chance to act responsibly and earn someone’s trust.
Copyright © 2012 Orlando Ceaser