Have you been watching this whole Ryan Lochte thing? You know – the Olympic medal winning swimmer and his team mates who were robbed at gunpoint in Rio? Wait…not exactly. Actually, the police in Rio say something different happened. Wait…there’s video – and the video seems to show Ryan and his somewhat inebriated compatriots vandalizing a gas station bathroom. Hmmm. And some of the data has revealed testimony that they were asked to pay for what they broke. Although Ryan’s interpretation might leave room for the possibility that they were being extorted – depending on how you want to interpret it. And then the police show up – to which Ryan adds that they pulled a gun on him, pointed it at his face and cocked it. Which in a recent interview with Matt Lauer he clarifies that he might have gotten some of the details wrong – or left some out – or something like that.
Wait a minute…what? What’s going on here? Am I the only one who’s wondering what’s really going on here?
What’s even more perplexing to me (in a rather disheartening way) is that it is my understanding that the interview with Matt Lauer was supposed to be Lochte’s coming clean interview. His – “you know what – I made a mistake”. Did I misunderstand? It sure didn’t feel that way to me. It felt more like the – “okay – so there is video that I can’t dispute – so here is kind of my new story – yes, I got drunk – but kids make mistakes and yes, it wasn’t exactly how I said it happened – but I’m not sure that I’m going to totally own my part of the problem” — yada, yada, yada. Full disclosure – about the time the tears started flowing in Lochte’s interview I felt like I was being played. I looked at my wife and said – “I think I’ve had enough of this…how about you?” She agreed. We changed the channel.
It boggles my mind how we can convince ourselves that we can spin our way out of our ownership of the problem. It simply confounds reason to me. But I don’t know why it should. As a child I totally adopted the “spin the truth” philosophy in an effort to minimize punishment from the establishment (i.e. my parents). Truth be told – there was a time or two that it actually worked. There was just enough truth – just enough possible alternative interpretation to the events that I was able to create reasonable doubt. You could see the skepticism in my parent’s faces (like they were pretty sure something was up) but I was able to create enough fogginess to the issues that they didn’t feel confident in bringing decisive disciplinary action.
I was listening to one of my favorite weekly shows…CBS Sunday Morning. They actually had a little commentary piece that began with the Lochte story. The commentator was unpacking the details of the swimmers lies over last week and then sarcastically questioned of the Olympian, “Are you six?” The commentator went on to give a litany on how lies (i.e. differing interpretations of the facts) of this magnitude and bigger are actually quite common place — beginning as far back as Adam and Eve.
So then…is this us? And if so…what does any of this have to do with leadership?
In my recent learnings from the Kansas Leadership Center I have found (and embraced) that an essential part of helping progress happen is the ability to create a trustworthy process. I don’t think it is craziness to think that when there are individuals or factions in any group whose interpretations don’t just push the edges of an appropriate understanding of the data but seem to blur them that it can create the same response in us as that of my parents toward me when I was a trying to create reasonable doubt.
I don’t know if I have a solution for the general propensity of the human race toward the deflection of blame and responsibility but I do have a sense for the fall out of such actions – distrust. When distrust is in the system it is very hard to work on the building blocks that are required for progress to occur. If bringing leadership to the table today doesn’t really matter to you then this may feel like a meaningless point. But if we ignore this idea we do so at our own peril. In other words, if we live this way and there is a moment in the future that we feel that people should take us seriously and respond to our ideas and they don’t – we shouldn’t be surprised.
Maybe I’m odd (and that I do not dispute) but in my life if feels like the times I owned my screw ups – really owned them – that I was able to recover more quickly in the system – and the whole system with me. The reason? There wasn’t this diverted energy toward trying pin blame on someone. There was no one else to blame. I did it. It’s on me. Now that doesn’t mean that there weren’t those in the system that wanted to keep reminding me of how I screwed up. That’s a topic for another blog. But as it related to my ownership of the issues at play – the speed at which I stopped trying to make my wrong look right tended to be the speed at which we could move on.
There are those who like being the fall guy. “Just blame me for all this” – even if it really isn’t my blame to take. The idea is that then we can all just begin feeling better. In my opinion this doesn’t really help. Why? Because, as it relates to progress, the goal isn’t to feel better – it’s to create a trustworthy process. In order for that to happen all of us – and I do mean all of us – need to own our own business – and that may mean to stop taking the blame for others who need to own their part of the mess.
But how do you know the difference? Surely if someone is taking the blame – then they are to blame – right? Or if someone is not taking the blame then they are not to blame – right?
Wouldn’t that make life so much easier?
But we all know better. This human condition is a lot messier than that. So what now?
To the extent which we are willing to wrestle with a few personal questions I offer all of us the following…
- Is there trust in the system I’m currently wanting to make progress in?
- If not, how do people view me in the system? What are they saying about me?
- Is there anything I need to own that is creating a wrench in the system?
- Who could I trust to give me good feedback on myself and the system?
- Are the issues at play with me something I need bigger help with? (a counselor or therapist)?
- What is one way that I might experiment so as to help build trust in the system?
More to come.