A multitude of surveys done in the late 1960s showed that 70 percent of U.S. residents felt that corporations could generally be trusted to act responsibly. Even after the economic boom of the past two decades, this figure has fallen to around 45 percent. Particularly, because of times of crisis for the business community and the demise of candor and trust, improvement in accepted practices and relationships among auditors, analysts, executives, and a multitude of stakeholders becomes difficult to visualize.
I believe many of us experience a very real lack of honesty in corporate America on a daily basis. I would submit that there is also very little stand. We’re so conscious not to offend, not to polarize, not to leave anyone out, not to discriminate, and not to differentiate, that many of us go through a day, week, month, year, or lifetime without saying anything at all. If you don’t stand for something, what do you believe in? What is it at your core that you are so fundamentally passionate about that you are willing to sacrifice a secure paycheck, benefits, and your precious vacation?
For many, personal and functional interactions are very similar – they say nothing. Why? Mostly, it is because of fear. Fear of saying too much; fear of saying something clever that others may think is stupid; or fear of saying something relevant that someone might find offensive. In an effort not to exclude anyone, we often succeed at boring everyone. Where people think they are saying something to grab everyone’s attention, they are really saying nothing at all. In our world of “sound bites” in the context of building lasting relationships, there simply must be more.
Executives with the fiduciary responsibility to lead an organization have become so bland that you wonder who exactly, as a company, are they trying to date? In an effort to please everyone, they often succeed at engaging no one. Executives and their companies believe that with enough clout, scale, and arrogance, they can simply survive by being generically likeable. And for some, it may work – at least in the short-term. But for the rest of us, almost everyone has to be ready to turn some people off.
If everyone refuses to discuss the elephant in the room, if mediocrity is not tolerated, but accepted as the norm, and if the status quo is encouraged as not rocking the boat, isn’t that just another version of saying nothing at all? The fear of being disliked afflicts many because of the greater perceived risk. Most executives fear that if they make a bold statement, they risk alienating customers, their bosses, and their boss’s bosses. That fear ultimately takes the edge off the candor – the authenticity – and the core of that executive and the company.