Bulletproof

What is it about some people?  I’m not sure why, once they’ve achieved a position of power, they assume the rules no longer apply to them.  Instead, they’ve become bulletproof – the conventional array of ethical and social behavior is inoperative and they can do whatever the heck they want at will.  Is there anyone of whom you can think that actually lives to tell that tale?

It would be easy, in the wake of yesterday’s conviction of Senator Stevens to write this off as a single instance of corruption.  But it isn’t always corruption in a financial sense.  President Clinton‘s dalliance in the Oval Office and Governor Spitzer’s trip as Client 9 as other examples of someone attaining a lofty position and losing all sense of what got them there.

Do you think it’s only men?  How about “The Queen of Mean“?  Her treatment of her staff was legendary and she ended up going to prison because “only little people pay taxes.”  Bulletproof?  Not so much.

I’ve worked with folks who believed themselves to be bulletproof.  Several got themselves fired; the others should have been.  Cheating on expense reports, demanding kick backs for giving raises (I’m serious), or just plain treating subordinates like crap, forgetting all the while that they, too, have bosses who could do the same to them – I’ve seen lots of folks who paint that big “S” on their chests because, like Superman, they’re bulletproof.

You want to be bulletproof?  Earn and engender a network of loyal peers, subordinates, bosses, and friends around you.   The movie Patton ends with these lines and it’s a great perspective on being immune:

For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph – a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

With a bunch of new leaders being empowered next week, both locally and nationally, let’s see who keeps this in mind.  Take a look around you at work – anyone you know of who could use someone whispering in their ear?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Bulletproof

  1. I think this is a learned thing – maybe I’m too much of an optimist about peoples’ better instincts. There are way too many brilliant, successful people who retain their humility and perspective for it to be otherwise, in my opinion. I agree that most of these idiots recover and often go on to bigger and better things. One can only hope they don’t repeat the cycle!

  2. Stuart S.

    Good points all the way around, Keith. Here’s my question: do you think that people are bulletproof by nature, or do they achieve this level of (self-perceived) bulletproofness (not a word, I know) over time? And isn’t it also amazing that bulletproof people seem to recover from those moments of failure and go on to equal — if not bigger — greatness and ‘bulletproofness’ in their next position? I’ve often thought that our collective memories were too short, or no one thought to search back through old microfiches in the library. In today’s world, it’s just so damned easy to google a name and gather a fairly rich and informed picture in seconds.

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