Encountering bad actors on the road to success
America, and an entire industry, is cleaning out its closet. With a public vigor we have never before seen, the stories are piling up, detailing sexual assaults, unwanted sexual advances, and abuse of power or influence. Beneath the headlines, what are we telling our young adults? There can be no mistake, unfortunate men and women have been forced to deal with ugly whims of selfish people in power. This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many victims of unwanted sexual advances walk among us. If the truth will set us free, we should be demanding more appropriate behavior from others and this recent celebrity purge will serve as a warning to all predators of power: It’s not worth the bad publicity. However, predators don’t really stop, they just find another way. We haven’t fixed anything. This is why I want to talk to my young adult children. I want them to be ready for their Weinstein moment. Kids, here are three things you need to know.
First, you can be prepared to respond to a bad actor before you encounter one. When a bad actor reveals himself or herself, it is usually face-to-face so they can manage the chaos. Your instincts will be telling you something has gone wrong and when this happens, know this: This relationship is over in its current form. Immediately. Irreversibly. The genie is out of the bottle. Do not hesitate. Among all the stories now being made public, victims were traumatized the most when they hesitated. A victim’s hesitation is a false suggestion to the predator that this overture may be successful. Hesitation gives the predator time to verbally rationalize this behavior — attempting to soothe the moment. Alcohol never helps. Turning around, leaving quietly, pushing away, or yelling are actions you must take within seconds. In the moment, someone you admire or trust is suddenly not what you expected; you could be stunned. You won’t have the proper words. Only your actions matter as you must stop a situation from becoming worse. At this point, you have lost a relationship you valued. It is done. Now do yourself a favor by not doing them any favors. Practice this escape plan in advance: 1) Find door; 2) Say “I’m leaving”; 3) Exit door; 4) Don’t look/go back. I am not suggesting this is easy. Just get out of there without debate and find the words later. If you know in advance the basic escape plan, you can prevent a bad moment from becoming much worse.
Second, what do you do now? What about your career track? Do you have to deal with this person again at your school, your job, or inside your industry? This is the leverage your predator is using before and after their advance toward you. This concern is what creates the dangerous hesitation. After you remove yourself from their presence, you move to the next step: Deciding what to do for the long term. Isn’t it amazing Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey could accumulate decades worth of predatory behavior and their victims didn’t blow the whistle publicly? That is the power of institutional influence and fear of retribution. “I will ruin you” is the counter threat. What can you do? Friends, family and counselors can help you evaluate your feelings and actions. Protect yourself. You may need to avoid all contact. You may need to pivot around a roadblock you did not create. You will never get fair treatment from someone you rebuff. Therefore, you should plot your future course to avoid any vulnerability to your bad actor. More complicated is the debate of silence vs. reporting the incident. Your silence may protect you from their future wrath but it makes new victims likely because no alarm is sounded. You’ll have to decide if you will be the whistle-blower, reporting your instructor, mentor, peer or manager to a higher authority. Yes, there are ramifications but you could be an unsung hero to people who are never victims due to your bravery.
Finally, don’t let these headlines change your openness to engaging the leaders in your life. Your success path follows the trailblazers who came before you. I want you to be inspired by your teachers, mentors, and senior managers because they can illustrate how you can one day do what they do. Pay close attention to why they are great. Success ingredients are universal and anyone worth emulating has created their own recipe. Don’t be afraid to be coached. Lean forward. In your life, you will have a few key influencers who go out of their way to help you, open a door for you, and make you better. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn from the best. However, in your journey, you may unfortunately encounter people whose good overtures are spawned from a darker side. Their assistance comes with a price attached. They have a void in their life that is more important to them than what is fair to you. Sometimes, your attention is misconstrued by their sickness to mean something it doesn’t mean. How do you know when this is occurring? Have confidence in your instincts as they will tell you immediately. Unless your instincts tell you something has gone wrong, absorb all you can. Don’t subdue your zeal for growth by assuming everyone is potentially bad. Good people are the majority.
As you develop your education, your craft and career, lean forward with great anticipation. Now you know what to look for and you know the proper response is only black/white — not gray. It may not be you, but it could be your best friend who faces sexual advances by someone they admire or trust or serve. Pressure, anxiety and traumatic memories are not natural and should be stopped early. Have your escape plan in mind when you meet a Weinstein or Spacey and hopefully disappointment will be their only legacy. — M
Mike Whitaker, author of THE DECISION MAKEOVER, is a featured speaker and business development specialist. He is the founder of Idea Gateway, a company that works with entrepreneurs to launch new businesses, providing expertise and capital to the ventures. Whitaker is the CEO of GuestX which is one of the companies developed by Idea Gateway. Additionally, he is a founder and board member for RevTech, a Dallas-based technology accelerator that assists young growth companies impacting the swiftly changing business landscape. He received his B.S. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Kansas and his MBA from the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma.