September 29 , 2004
Don't stereotype group for one bad apple
A 15-year-old recently told his father he couldn't imagine
ever going into politics because he assumed every politician
was dishonest. Then he asked this question: How can you
become successful while being honest -- and without being
taken advantage of?
When an energetic, intelligent and motivated teenager
concludes that politics is so dirty he isn't attracted
to it -- at all -- then those in positions to improve
the image as well as the stature of public service need
to take notice. Bad apples exist in all professions.
This young person is presenting a narrow, naïve
and often-inaccurate picture of leadership in our society.
He singles out politics, but he might have slammed any
number of walks of life.
Consider the negative stereotypes of management consulting,
the world of my own work for the past 25 years. My job
is to build executive effectiveness through the diagnosis
of leadership talent and the facilitation of team communication.
Our organization works hard to do a good job, honorably,
every time. However, one description of those who are "consultants" is
that when you ask them what time it is, they will borrow
your watch, tell you the time and walk away with your
Terms like phony, fraud, con artist, sleaze, charlatan,
hustler and deadbeat are too often the kindest phrases
associated with those viewed more as parasites than as
real contributors. So what is one to do to change perception
of people who've become cynical about one or more roles
For starters, tell the truth yourself. Do a good job,
be a responsible and responsive citizen, on and off of
the job. Take the time to affirm the profession you've
chosen and share accounts about people in it who've done
well by doing the right thing. Bragging about chiseling
and beating the system provides further evidence to listeners
that dishonesty is the preferred approach.
Fraudulent behavior is not what our world needs. There
are good people in all walks of life, and our society
-- public and private sectors alike -- need energetic,
intelligent and motivated individuals to follow in their
footsteps. Sometimes, a little naïveté is
refreshing. One wise person suggested he'd rather "buy
the Brooklyn Bridge than be remembered for having sold
it," which probably means he'd rather be remembered
for having been taken in by a sharp dealmaker than being
classified as a self-serving manipulator. Me, too!