…all the kids have always known, that the emperor wears no clothes, but they bow down to him anyway, because its better than being alone – Arcade Fire, Ready to Start.
I watched the documentary on Lance Armstrong the other evening; I wanted to see how what had happened to Lance Armstrong had started. I worked on the assumption that people aren’t born with an urge to cheat, deceive or take performance enhancing drugs. I wondered what the catalyst had been that had moved Lance Armstrong from a brilliant young cyclist to a deceiver of epic proportions. The answer came quickly; Lance said he and his team mates realised that if they wanted to compete at the top level then they had no other option than to start cheating. He said this was the only choice open to them because everyone else was doing it and he and his team-mates were getting creamed by seemingly average riders from other teams. I wondered which variant of the, “this is the real world” or the “don’t be naive” speech someone had given him?
The saddest thing about the response that Lance Armstrong gave, was the sense of powerlessness and submission that he exuded. Despite realising that the “top level” was clearly nothing of the sort, he still seemed blinded to the glory of participating, he never appeared to see that there was a choice…he didn’t have to compete in something that clearly wasn’t worthy of his commitment but he was hypnotised by the trappings of success, the fame the fortune and the admiration of his peers. And then I wondered how many of us in our day to day lives have fallen prey to exactly the same pressures and the same inducements?
According to the Chartered Management Institute, a significant proportion of senior managers pro-actively lie and deceive in order to create, maintain or enhance their positions. And the proportions rise the higher up the chain you go. What I can understand if not condone is the right of the Private Sector to behave in this fashion, it is their money and their business and if they wish to compete for customers and staff with pernicious cultures then they are free to try; the markets generally find them out. Interestingly many of the most successful Private Sector businesses do not behave like this precisely because they have found that it is not effective or profitable in the long-term. Many Private Sector businesses are now more transparent than their Publicly Funded counterparts.
Where there is absolutely no room for such behaviour is in the Public Sector where other peoples money is supposed to be harnessed for the greater good; yet ironically this is exactly where such behaviour appears to be most prevalent. The politicking, empire protecting, semi-transparent and sometimes downright duplicitous behaviour of the Public Sector has almost become accepted simply because the Public now expect so little else from it that they are no longer disappointed when it happens. It is no wonder that politicians and the public alike often see privatisation as the means to achieve change within the Public Sector. The Public Sector should stop seeing this as an unprincipled threat to its existence, it should look long and hard in the mirror and start to ask itself why so many people see it as being in need of radical reform and what it can do to address the challenges it faces rather than denying that they exist.
He perpetuated nothing of note by devious means is not the inscription that I’d like on my headstone…and I’m guessing most people feel the same way?