From Watergate to the Arab Spring to Votes in Mexico: Our Views on Authority Keep Changing
Approach Authority with Grace and Questions
It’s been just over 40 years since the Watergate break-in. Nixon’s long gone. Colson’s newly gone. Woodward and Bernstein still don’t know who ordered the break-in. I was a kid back then and Watergate was my first taste of big authority gone terribly wrong. Since then, those in authority continue to take advantage of their positions with breathtaking hubris. Every day shines the spotlight on yet another leader: a few weeks back it was the investment bankers tilting the Facebook IPO in favor of their friends. Yesterday it was the Barclays CEO Bob Diamond resigning over manipulating loans.
And globally the despots are disappearing and sometimes returning: Tunisia’s Ben Ali gone. Egypt’s Mubarak gone/jailed/hospitalized. Libya and Yemen, gone and gone. Syria’s Assad holds on but his well-publicized homicidal sprees among his own people make him the latest Hitler wannabe. Putin is hard pressed to control the growing awareness and unrest in Russia. And yet in Mexico, the PRI party that ruled corruptly for much of the 20th century is…back? The student movement in Mexico promises to keep shining light—just in case that group has not changed its ways.
Shining light is the key. Smart reporting that shines light on wrongdoing has played a huge role in getting rid of the bad guys. I believe social media has also opened a way for people to share information outside of heavily regulated state channels controlled to the interests of the leaders.
Are all authorities corrupt? No. Authorities all over the world continue to create order and move groups toward larger goals. It’s just that when a corrupt leader gets payback, it becomes an irresistible story to us commoners.
How should we respond to leadership and authority? With grace and questions. Grace because leadership and authority takes its toll on the leader. Sacrifice is involved. That old dead letter writer Paul had it right when he wrote that authorities are placed on purpose and in the end are subject to the Creator’s command. Questions because we all need the benefit of each other’s wisdom. Some leaders and authorities just don’t yet realize it.
This is why it remains important for me and you and the employees of United Health Group and Target to regularly read about how CEOs like United Health Groups Hemsley or Target’s Steinhafel are rewarded like robber barons for their role at the top of the pyramid. A bit of light helps us formulate questions.