Does trust matter anymore?

Lessons from Tom Brady and Deflategate


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Is Tom Brady guilty or innocent in Deflategate?

Even though we’re in an election season (seems like we’re always in an election season), just asking this question can get you into more trouble than proselytizing about your favorite candidate.

What amazes me is the number of people who have very strong, willing-to-fight-for opinions one way or the other, even though none of us really knows. And among the faithful, just asking the question is dangerous.

It’s almost like the message is who cares about the facts as long as he wins. 

If he’s guilty, I think he should be punished; if he’s innocent, he deserves an apology, and I’m glad I don’t have to make that determination from all the conflicting stories in the media.

I like racing sailboats. Years ago, I had been forced into a mark on a turn. For my penalty, I had to do a 360° turn before crossing the finish line. As I approached the line, I was in first place. I did my turn and crossed the line, thankfully, still in first place. 

As I did, someone on the committee boat hollered out, “What was that for?”

“I hit the mark.”

“Well nobody saw you.”

I was heartbroken. There were four club members on that committee boat, and they all thought I was crazy for following the rules. Sailboat racing used to be called a gentlemen’s sport because we were sailing on our honor.

There’s a good chance no one will see some of our infractions, but we are honor-bound to execute our penalties nonetheless. I would never want a trophy I had cheated to win, but as I get older, I feel like I’m more and more in the minority with such scruples.

Clay Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor well known for his excellent books and articles, has a recent clip on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjntXYDPw44). Speaking with a student, a Marxist economist from China finishing up a Fulbright fellowship, he asked the student if he found anything surprising during his stay in America. 

Without any hesitation, the student answered that most Americans freely choose to obey the law. I had never thought about it before. We’re not so much afraid of getting caught; we do what we do because we feel it’s the right thing to do.

Professor Christensen goes on to say that most Americans feel we are answerable to a higher power. Christensen closes by pointing out that if we eliminate religion, we can’t hire enough police. 

The video is only a minute and a half, but it makes a very powerful point. I doubt anyone would argue that our morality is not steadily eroding. It seems we can’t build enough prisons to hold all the bad folks who get caught.

Which brings me back to that “Nobody saw you” quote and the blind defense of Tom Brady, which is just as demoralizing. If we don’t care about cheating in sports, does anyone think it would bother us to cheat on the job or in other aspects of our lives? 

How do we manage people we can’t trust? How much security can a company afford and remain competitive in the international marketplace? 

How do we know we can trust our security people?

Should employees who can’t be trusted be fired or be paid less, and if so, how could we realistically measure whether or not they are trustworthy?

It’s not a pretty picture. Who of us would ever be able to go home at night if we had to double-check everything that was done for us?

We can’t hire people who never make mistakes; they don’t exist. But wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who worked for us would come forward and admit their mistakes without waiting to be caught and then denying it?

I do hope Mr. Brady is innocent, but I’m afraid the real truth, if we ever find it, may not make a difference to enough people.

There’s a strong push in some schools to teach more science and technology to prepare students for the job market. Shouldn’t we also be teaching them a lot more about the importance of honesty and integrity? 

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.

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