Power, Corruption & Lies.
BY JON WESTENBERG
I stole this title from my favourite New Order album.
Have you ever looked at the stories of the rich and famous, the politicians and the entrepreneurs who are prepared to stab each other in the back, and asked how they could sleep at night?
Their lives seem to be full of dirty tricks and dirty plays, people ready to hurt and damage other lives in order to improve their own. In every biography, there are people waiting with accusations and commentary that always seems to run along that theme.
So is it true that in order to be successful, you have to be prepared to accept the power, the corruption and the lies? Is it true that you have to give away your soul in order to achieve your dreams and goals?
I’m not convinced that it is.
In fact, I have a theory that the best way to reach success is to go completely the opposite direction.
Because we’re all susceptible to Power, Corruption and Lies. We’re all in danger of living shitty little lives by giving in to them.
Power (Treating People Like They Matter)
When I look back at the managers that I’ve had in my professional career, the one that really stands out was a woman I worked under at a social startup here in Sydney. Back then, I was the content marketing manager, which meant running a small editorial team and working my ass off trying to get traction. Her role was a little harder to define, but it what came down to was keeping the entire company together without being recognised for it.
There were two interactions there that were interesting to me. The first was the way the CEO and the chairman of the company treated my boss. She would stay back at the office until late every night and still be in at 7:30 the next morning. She was more engaged with the startup than anyone else there, and she lived and breathed for that role.
Do you know what they did? They cut her out of key decision making processes and told her that she needed to remember that “nobody was indispensable.” I think it kind of broke her heart. She walked away from the company, and without her the company quickly fell apart.
The second interaction was the way she treated me. It was as an equal, as someone whose work mattered deeply to her both personally and professionally. She looked out for me and tried to manage my professional development to the best of her ability. She made it a priority no matter how much work she had on — and she did the same for the rest of her team too.
Do you know what I did? I came in early when she did, I went the extra mile and I dedicated myself to Getting Shit Done. I felt like I mattered, so I acted like I did.
When you have power, you have to treat people like they matter. They’ll rise to it, and they’ll start to matter.
Corruption (Maintaining Integrity)
Do you know how to disintegrate entirely? How to completely lose yourself and those around you who matter deeply? It’s simple. You do it by pursuing money, fame, power and a lifestyle at the expense of and by sacrificing your core values. You do it by being ready to sell out yourself and everything you believe in at a moment’s notice.
I used to know a guy who made several fortunes in his life. He made millions, lost millions and repeated it. Time and time again. We’re not talking an unfortunate tech visionary who made a few bad calls and wound up building a Unicorn, we’re talking a shady-as-shit import/export/property/real estate/construction millionaire who barely stayed out of prison. I knew him through his son, a guy who was ashamed of the man who raised him.
He’s on the up right now. Knowing him, he’ll always find a way to be on the up. But you know the sad thing? As I watched him over the years, I could see him withering every day. He drove away the people who mattered. He beat up his wife and kicked his son out of the home. It was the pile-on effect of every crooked call he made, dealing with the wrong crowd and getting mixed up in activities that might not have been illegal but were certainly economical with the law. He always said he worked hard for his family. Well his family are long gone.
He was a corrupt man. He sacrificed everything he had, including his own integrity, in order to reach success and fight for what he felt was rightfully his, in a world that he increasingly saw as being a struggling wasteland. You’re probably thinking God! What an asshole!
But he’s all of us. He’s the person we all have inside, that we talk to late at night when everything is quiet, that we sometimes look to for advice when we have to make a tough call.
We could become him, and it would be easy. Not becoming him is the hard part, and you can only do it by sticking to your convictions. By knowing what matters and never letting go of it.
Lies (Being Honest With Yourself)
You are a liar. And so am I. It’s what we do, every day. It’s how we get by and how we survive. We lie to ourselves about what we’ve done to deserve an extra 10 minutes in bed when the alarm goes off, and we lie to ourselves when we justify our bad calls. You’re lying to yourself right now if you’re thinking you don’t.
If you’ve read through this piece, and you don’t think you’re in danger of falling apart in the face of power and corruption, that should be a hint that lies are your real enemy. If you’ve ever refused to take criticism and rejected failures as being out of your control, if you’ve ever told your friends that you broke up with your ex because they were crazy…guess what? Liar.
Here’s the thing — nobody will ever be right about you and what you do. They’ll never be able to really grasp the motivations behind your actions and the forces that drive your life. But if there’s one person who comes close, it’s you. When you can learn how to step back and examine the evidence, you’ll gain an understanding that no amount of mentoring will ever be able to match.
If I could give you a spreadsheet template that will help you stay honest in exchange for your email address, I bloody would. I would in a heartbeat. But I can’t.
I don’t have a formula for becoming true to yourself. I don’t have a formula for always telling the truth. All I can say is that you have to try. You have to try hard and question yourself, question your motivations and rationales.