A little while ago I heard an interview on the radio with Robert Epstein, the author of the book “The case against adolescence”. His basic point of argument is that we keep our teens from becoming adults and that we treat them too much as big children. It's not an argument for more freedom but an argument for more responsibility.

The author shows that teenagers have more capabilities than most grown ups are willing to admit. Sounds familiar?How Crazy

We coddle our teenagers too much and treat them as if not capable of making sound decisions for themselves. We treat them as stupid. And guess what? That's how they start acting.

So, are they acting irresponsible and stupid because they are or because we made them that way?

Based on the findings of Epstein and my own experience in the “grown up” - world I argue the latter. There is a more universal principle at work here: The principle that if you treat someone a specific way that person will start acting that way.

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy by proxy. And now you have a reason to treat them like idiots because they act like them. And so it goes on and on.

In my encounters in the business world, the world of management, the workforce, I've come across a lot of “reap-what-you-sow” situations. Managers, bosses and supervisors complaining about their irresponsible, untrustworthy staff while not noticing that they themselves are more than anything else the cause for this behaviour.

I once had the pleasure of attending a role playing management game with a twist that proofed this point very clearly. It was one of those games where a simple case was presented with different functions/roles to be played by the participants. It was an air plane Now That's Crazy!manufacturer with a sales manager, an hr manager, a productions manager and so on. Each of the participants was given a short (not all the same) description of the situation and a description of the role and responsibilities of the person they were to play. So far nothing out of the extraordinary. The twist was that each of us got a cap and on that cap the facilitators attached a sticker with a character description. It was a short one or two letter description of the type of person each one of us was. The catch was that you did not know your own description. The added instruction was that we had to treat the other participants as per the sticker. We were not to tell the others about the description on their caps.

So there was 'a flirt', 'a comic', 'a tyrant', 'an indecisive guy', and a whole bunch others. And do you know what happened? Within the hour everyone was acting more or less as described on their caps. So the crabby gal really got crabby, the dumb guy was acting dumb and the bossy clerk was bossing everyone around.

I know that this not a scientific exercise but it has learned me very clearly that the old saying “As you sow, so shall you reap!” is very true. Shame on YouEspecially when applied to dealing with people.

In other words, if and when you treat your people and colleagues like idiots, don't be surprised when they start acting like that.

I was once asked, as part of a management training course, to give my definition of a good manager. I was one of the last ones to give an answer. After a slew of a-dime-a-dozen platitudes (my perception, I agree!) such as "A great leader", "Very skilled in his/her practise domain". "A good listener" I answered simply: "A good manager is home on time. And so are his people"

In other words, don't try to be the hero PM/Leader/CEO

In August of 2009 Lawrence Lessig started as Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at the University of Harvard.

"His current work addresses "institutional corruption" relationships which are legal, even currently ethical, but which weaken public trust in an institution."

In his opening must-watch-lecture he explains what his definiion of institutional corruption is. Lessig tells us how it effects peoples' trust in these institutions and what some of the causes are. As a true scholar and scientist he then explains why it is important to study the phenomenon, how he intends to do that and last but not least how that may/will benefit all of us.

The interesting, or worrying point - whatever your perspective might be - he makes is, that the problem of institutional corruption not only affects all of us (does not matter where you live!) but starts with us.

"Nobody picked up the phone and told the captain commanding the ship was drunk!"

While Lessig focuses primarily on public institutions, there is a lot to learn for organziations from what he has to say about this today and undoubtedly even more in the near future.

When people:

  • look the other way,
  • when the interests of a few trump the interests of many,
  • when decisions are no longer based on facts but on fads,
  • when nobody picks up the phone

then there's a heap of trouble waiting for us.

So what can we do about it? We need:

  • Courage
  • Cultural change
  • Governance

Next time we'll look a bit more in depth at ways to address this problem from an organizational perspective.

Now sit back and enjoy the excellent lecture. (Note that Lessig does not adhere to the 1 slide per 3 minutes "rule".)

Short Version of Lecture

Long Version of Lecture