One of the biggest frustrations we, as Americans, have about the 2007/2008 financial slide is that it was precipitated by exotic financial instruments that only a few hundred people on the planet seem to have a clue as to how they are meant to operate. Although these “professionals” claim to have a tenuous understanding of them, these instruments were suspect at best from an ethical perspective. Even when properly explained, there was an whiff of cluelessness surrounding the whole affair.
The real victory, if you want to call it that, is that something so complex was created and then those who were being irresponsible chose to hide behind that complexity as a means to get away with it. The part condescension and part truth of how we peons (meaning everyone except these elite few hundred) couldn’t wrap our meager brains around such an involved process doomed us to not being able to ask good questions and no real point of accountability in some respects. Even though it kept them out of jail, it definitely trashed their reputations that aren’t going to be repaired any time soon.
While the Wall St. barons may not give a rip if the majority of humanity think they’re incredulous and capricious pilferers, the rest of the world usually isn’t so fortunate. There are aspects to certain businesses and functions of some industries that are somewhat complicated by nature. When we as leaders, however, begin using the innate complex nature of something as a facade or a crutch in some narcissistic charade, we are committing a grave faux pas.
It doesn’t matter if most people may not be able to nail down every detail that is wrong or be able to explain why it is wrong. They still know what wrong is. The argument can be made, “If one can’t explain why it’s wrong, how do they truly know it’s wrong?” If this is your best defense, I pity you. Even if you’re right, you haven’t been a good leader in explaining things and being transparent in your motives. Perception is, after all, reality.
Things get a little challenging at times, especially when we have to be creative in order to remain viable as businesses. The universe has a way of rewarding honest creativity. It also has a way of crucifying those who choose to walk on the edge of the shadows in order to get ahead as well. You may be clear legally, at least what can be proven, but if no one is willing to follow you what kind of leader are you really?
Protect the future of your organization and make sure you consistently take inventory of the methods and motivations behind any complexity that may be developing. Ask yourself some hard questions and make sure you’re disclosing things to people that may be affected by poor judgment on the part of leadership. While you don’t have to hand them the reins, their insight could keep you from traveling down a path that may not have a safe and healthy way back.