Posts Tagged ‘the end justifies the means’

Manipulation is emotional blackmail and an unquintessential leadership traitWe live in a society that is fundamentally dishonest. Nothing is ever as it seems. Lying is the norm. Selfishness and self interests drive everything we see, hear, and read.

Unfortunately, most of us – those in leadership positions and those who are not – are the perpetrators of this fundamental dishonesty and lying because we have become consumed by self-centeredness and our own self interests.

A predominant aspect of this fundamental dishonesty is our overriding propensity toward manipulation. We manipulate people. We manipulate situations. We manipulate things.

Manipulation is an unquintessential leader trait. 

Manipulation is insidious. Most of us aren’t aware of how much of our daily lives are based on manipulation.

Manipulation is subtle. It comes couched in altruistic coverings that hide the real purpose behind the manipulation (the hidden agenda).

Manipulation – doing it and resisting it – is a vulnerability for all of us because it plays on our emotions.

Emotions are the weak spot for each of us. Emotions are fickle, volatile, and unreliable in terms of making sane, logical, and rational decisions.

That is why manipulation works so well. It usually catches us off guard and depending on what emotional buttons get pushed – practiced manipulators can read these emotional buttons like the backs of their hands, even if they don’t know the people, situations and things they are manipulating – we can fall for it before we even realize what’s happened.

Manipulation is essentially emotional blackmail.

There are a lot of people who have perfected emotional blackmail, both those in leadership positions and those not in leadership positions. 

It’s important to remember that manipulation is not something that just crops up in adulthood. Manipulators are sometimes born, but they most often are developed from a very early age. 

There is something fundamental in our human character that steers us even as toddlers to try to find a way to gain an advantage over others – namely the adults in our lives – and get what we want.

We all usually try manipulation first. If the adults in our lives allow us to get what we want through manipulation, then we develop the habit of defaulting to manipulation as how we interact with everything else in our lives.

With time and opportunity, we get really good at manipulation. Eventually, unchecked, we perfect it until we simply don’t know any other way than manipulation to operate in the world.

If this is our lives’ trajectory, then we also become fundamentally deceptive, dishonest, and devoid of integrity, character, and trustworthiness

There are common emotional buttons that are pushed by experienced manipulators. These buttons are based on the primal emotions that drive the human race.

Fear is an emotional button that manipulators pushThe most common emotional button that seasoned manipulators push is fear. These include:

  • Fear for safety
  • Fear for security
  • Fear of harm
  • Fear of loss
  • Fear of punishment

Another common emotional button that skilled manipulators push is sympathy.

Sympathy is something that experienced manipulators don’t Manipulation includes pushing the sympathy emotional buttonfeel and practice themselves (in fact, manipulators are extremely harsh toward and brutally critical of everyone else and habitually advocate no sympathy for anyone else but themselves), but they are exceptionally good at generating it for themselves.

The sympathy emotional button gets pushed by the manipulator in the following ways:

  • Constantly drawing attention to themselves
  • Constantly presenting themselves as vulnerable and delicate
  • Constantly reminding everyone of how much they are suffering
  • Constantly seeking validation and accolades because of how “well” they’re suffering

A final common emotional button that experienced manipulators push is guilt.

Guilt is, in my opinion, the most subjective emotion we have and skilled manipulators don’t access it directly, but instead use insinuation. 

The guilt emotional button is sometimes pushed by this statement:

  • I’m disappointed…

The guilt button is pushed by manipulationGuilt emotional buttons, however, most often get pushed by some form of these two basic questions about what the manipulator has supposedly done for the person they are trying to manipulate:

  • Have you forgotten…?
  • Don’t you remember…?

The interesting thing about manipulators and the guilt emotional button is that the manipulator is always manufacturing a past that never happened (i.e., the balance sheet is not in their favor and often is the exact opposite of what they are insinuating).

But the combination of  lifelong manipulators with our innate – and sometimes outsized – human capacity to experience guilt (even if we haven’t done anything wrong – am I the only one who gets a little nervous when a police car is behind me on the road even though I’m obeying all the traffic laws?) makes this emotional button harder to handle logically, and it is, in my opinion, the one to which we are most susceptible.

One of the most maddening things about manipulation and manipulators, though, is that they expect everything and give nothing.

Manipulation is selfishness and self-centeredness on steroids. Manipulators will not give up anything. They will not take responsibility for anything.

Manipulators will vengefully attack anyone and everyone who resists and refuses to fall for their manipulation.

In fact, manipulators fight back against this by making the resistors and the refusers of their attempts to manipulate the “bad guys.”

Manipulators do this loudly, publicly, and relentlessly. And because they are effective liars, manipulators usually manage to convince a lot of people that those who can’t and won’t be manipulated are horrible, awful, despicable people who deserve nothing but contempt and derision.

For the majority of people who fall for the lies of manipulators, these resistors and refusers effectively cease to exist as part of the human race. 

It happens every day. Innumerable times a day.




Manipulation is all around us. Perhaps manipulation is in us.

Because we are striving to be quintessential leaders, we have to be aware of what manipulation looks like and how much of it may have crept into our own lives in our words and our actions.

That means being brutally honest with ourselves and asking the tough questions of ourselves.

Whether we are manipulators or not depends on our motivation in everything in our lives.

As quintessential leaders, we must ask and answer these questions of ourselves continually:

  1. Why am I saying this?
  2. Why am I doing this?
  3. Am I being honest?
  4. Is this exclusively for my benefit or will it benefit everybody?

If we’re honest – and those of us striving to be quintessential leaders say we are honest, so we must back that up with proof in a world that is fundamentally dishonest – we may find that a lot of what we say and do on a daily basis is designed to manipulate people, situations, and things to work in our favor and for our benefit.

This is the difficult work of quintessential leadership.

Most people are unable and unwilling to do it because it means changing who and what they are at the core level of their lives.

It means doing the right thing all the time, no matter what the personal cost. It means giving up some things. It means being selfless, even when it would be a piece of cake to fulfill our selfish desires.

Quintessential leaders are not most people.

How are we doing?

This month, in U.S. news, two prominent people in leadership positions in the sports world who have shown themselves to be thoroughly unquintessential leaders have emerged. One of the ties between these two people – Lance Armstrong (7-time Tour de France winner) and Manti Te’o (the highly-touted former Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up) – is that of broken trust as a result of blatant dishonesty, spin, angling, the blame game, and outright deception.

As quintessential leaders, it is absolutely imperative that we understand how trust is built and how we become and stay trustworthy, because as is the case with Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o, once trust is destroyed and trustworthiness is gone, it is difficult, if not impossible, to ever get back.

My eBook, “Trust & Trustworthiness” provides a compellingly insightful and comprehensive compilation of the quintessential leadership components of building and keeping trust and becoming and being trustworthy and what they look like in practice.

Although I enjoy sports, professional cycling and college football are two sports I don’t have any interest in nor do I really understand exactly what the mass appeal of them is.

However, I would have had to have lived under a rock for the past twenty years or so not to have a fairly good knowledge about Lance Armstrong and his career. The interesting thing about Armstrong, though, is that years ago, when he really hit his stride and became a household name, I observed a certain disconnectedness and ruthless coldness about him that made me uncomfortable. His eyes, I think, betrayed him. When the then-rumors about his doping began to swirl, I believed they were more than just rumors and were probably credible.

Armstrong vehemently insisted for years that he had never used drugs to enhance his physical performance and continued that steadfast denial even in the face of the irrefutable proof of his usage of banned substances and his distribution of those substances to others in the cycling world in the 1000+-page report from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released in June 2012.

One of the most disturbing things I observed about Lance Armstrong during this period of accusations and denials was his viciousness and his determination to destroy as many lives as possible along the way. His behavior seemed more like that of a sociopath than of a man defending himself against unfounded and baseless claims. He spent a lot of time and energy ridding himself of accusers and, in his mind, enemies, fingering them as being cheaters and liars and claiming to be a victim of vindictiveness spurred by jealousy over his accomplishments.

After seeing portions of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and reading the full transcript, it turns out that Armstrong was the cheater and the liar all along. Watching his body language and his eyes and observing the calculated and emotionless responses to Winfrey’s questions, it’s clear that Armstrong has strong sociopathic tendencies and that is the epitome of unquintessential leadership.

The first thing that I noticed about Lance Armstrong in the actual interview clips was that he still doesn’t believe he did anything wrong – and he never will. There is no contrition. There is no regret. There is no remorse. There is no guilt.

There is nothing behind the very feeble gestures that he’d like us to believe are admissions of dishonesty, wrong-doing, and cheating. No one who knows this man should ever expect a genuine apology from him. Whenever someone starts this statement: “I guess I’ll have to apologize…,” that person is not convicted within him or herself of his or her guilt, culpability, or the need to right a wrong. 

In Lance Armstrong’s mind and heart, he’s innocent of any wrong-doing. One of his claims to defend his doping is that “everyone else was doing it.” That’s the oldest excuse in the world, but only unquintessential leaders use it. All the other wrongs in the world don’t make a quintessential leader’s wrong right. Wrong is wrong and right is right.

People in leadership positions set the example for those they are responsible for leading. So when Lance Armstrong dopes, lies, cheats, and blames and crushes other people, what example is he setting? It’s unquintessential leadership on steroids, pun intended.

The most telling quote for me of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was this one about cheating: “At the time, no. I kept hearing I’m a drug cheat, I’m a cheat, I’m a cheater. I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat and the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

This is the heart, core, soul of Lance Armstrong. He has no integrity and he epitomizes the very worst – the opposite of quintessential leadership – of unquintessential leadership.

Manti Te’o, the former Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy contender, has a shorter, but equally unquintessential leadership track as that of Lance Armstrong. Another appalling aspect to this story is the same kind of unquintessential leadership being shown by Notre Dame’s executive staff, most notably athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, who has countered Deadspin’s revelation of the fraud and dishonesty perpetrated by Te’o by continuing to assert that Te’o was the victim of a hoax.

Te’o’s story of the death of his grandmother and girlfriend within a 12-hour period of each other fueled sympathy and admiration both by the media and the public for the young football player in September of 2012.

However, as Deadspin revealed this week, the story was a lie. Te’o’s grandmother did die in September 2012, but there was no girlfriend and no subsequent death from leukemia. It turns out that this was a publicity move of dishonesty and fraud – probably to up the chances of Te’o winning the Heisman Trophy and being drafted higher in the NFL – that, no matter what the assertions of Te’o and Notre Dame officials are, Te’o was intimately involved in and continually purported to be true.

The fact that Te’o actively participated in the fraud is what highlights his own and Notre Dame’s lack of quintessential leadership. How Notre Dame’s athletic director can keep telling people that Te’o is an innocent victim of a hoax when Te’o’s own words convict him and show him to be thoroughly involved in the web of deceit is beyond comprehension. It seems that once people go down the road of dishonesty, eventually they begin to believe their own lies to the point that truth is never and can never be within their grasps again.

Te’o’s dishonesty, with Notre Dame’s apparent approval and backing, has destroyed any credibility – and that includes trust and trustworthiness – he had. Even if he is drafted by the NFL (personally, I think they’d be crazy to draft him), no one will ever trust him again. He has proven himself to be an unquintessential leader: unreliable, undependable, dishonest, untrustworthy, and selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed.

Te’o, in the end, like Lance Armstrong, and like every other unquintessential leader, is all about himself. They don’t care about the team or the truth. They have no integrity. They lack any authenticity. They are pretenders, wannabe’s, and examples of the opposite of what we as quintessential leaders want to be, should be, and, indeed, must be.

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli 

While the exact phrase “the end justifies the means” is never found in Machiavelli’s renowned 1532 work, The Prince, there is absolutely no doubt this is one of the distilled philosophies that you come away with after reading it. I remember reading it in high school and being bothered by it, but in rereading it a few years back, perhaps because this is just the way the world – individually and collectively – with very very few exceptions does things now, my sense of bother had deepened to disgust and a conscious rejection of all the tenets and principles in the book. Machiavelli, it seems, would have fit right into the 21st Century with his promotion of situational ethics and relative morality or total immorality in every aspect of life.

This post is about ethics and process. Ethics is defined as “a system of moral principles;” and “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group;” and “that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.” By “process,” I mean how and why we, individually and collectively, do things to achieve a desired outcome.

Let me say at the outset that ethics and process is a constant struggle, and many times we’ve absorbed so much of what’s going on around us – “that’s what everyone else is doing,” – and we live in an ADHD world that leaves us little free time – unless we make the conscious choice to create free time – to think through our processes – and we have adapted to a world philosophy that justifies being unethical to achieve goals (the mantra of this is “well, it’s not hurting anybody,” which we’ll discover is absolutely untrue, except the people getting hurt are not the ones we might think). Additionally, we’ve fallen into the trap of believing that the outcome of something is what is most important, not how we got there – that the end justifies the means.

It is my belief that how we got there is far more important and significant than the end result. If the process is wrong, flawed, faulty, deceitful, or in any other way dishonest, the end result is nullified. Because defects of character, a lack of integrity, and disregard for ethics characterizes the process. Some examples of this process-ethics problem on an individual level are things that as I read them I continually ask myself “is this something I’ve done, am doing, or would do?” I believe that being very aware of all my processes – and asking myself “is this right or is this wrong?” and “is it at its very core honest or dishonest?” – in life is critical to having right character and unimpeachable integrity, because, when it’s all said and done, those are the only things I will leave this life with. As Marc Antony so eloquently says in his eulogy of Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones:

A story last week in The Atlantic about the housing bust had these two quotes from one of the investigators with Digital Risk, a company that exists solely to catch mortgage fraud. The first quote is a bit surprising: “pastors—dozens of them—who doctored bank statements, bought houses they couldn’t pay for, and then filed for bankruptcy. “’…The nice thing about pastors is that their church shares information when asked,’ Alpan says. ‘Pastors are always an easy [fraud] claim.'” The second quote seemed, to me, to sum up, in general, society’s, individually and collectively, default process: “‘It’s not just lawyers and pastors and CEOs who lie and scheme. It’s nurses and schoolteachers, too,’ he says. ‘Everybody’s guilty; no one’s up to any good.'”

How about the educators in Atlanta, GA who were involved in cheating on the state’s standardized testing, in which more federal funding – and teacher and administrator jobs – were at stake for low test scores? This is the epitome of a unethical and dishonest process being employed by individuals for a “good” – although in my opinion, keeping these educators in their jobs would not have been good for the students – goal. What kind of example did they set for the kids they were entrusted to educate? They taught them that cutting corners, cheating, and lying were acceptable if those behaviors achieved the end goal. Am I the only one who believes these kids took that lesson – and process – to heart and everything they do from here on out will be suspect, process-wise?

On an even more personal level, how many of us have fudged the deductions on our income taxes to either avoid paying or to pay less than what we legitimately owe in taxes? Many non-monetary charities – furniture, clothes, etc. – simply allow you to tell them the value of your donation and they sign it and give you the receipt. If we donated to one of these, were we honest about the value of our donation? Did we take other deductions that we weren’t allowed to or inflate the amount of other allowable deductions? That’s an unethical, deceitful, and dishonest process.

Our individual unethical and dishonest processes aggregate in the organizations we are members of professionally, socially, and religiously. Common and frequently-used examples  of how these processes look at the organizational level (and because I’ve been in technology – and often that includes being in the inner workings of organizations, especially as they have become inextricably linked over the course of time – since the beginning of my career, there isn’t much I haven’t seen and heard, but a lot I’ve had to say “no” to or, with time because my process, which is, to the best of my ability, to be honest and ethical no matter what, to simply not be asked even though the people who are asked and say “yes” end up talking to me about it and I tell them “don’t expect the people you’re doing this for to visit you in that federal penitentiary”) include:

  • Encouraging members of the organization to access the organization’s web site from as many unique IP addresses as they can on a regular basis to artificially drive up the traffic statistics and boost the organic search engine rankings
  • Encouraging members of the organization to post favorable online reviews of the organization’s products to create the illusion that lots of people want and like the products
  • Creating fictional web sites that purport to objectively compare your organization’s products with competing organizations’ products where your organization’s products are rated higher than all the others
  • Encouraging and/or having members of the organization to use social media contacts (who may or may not actually be interested in the organization or its products) to “like” the organizations’ social media pages to boost their search rankings

And technology is not the only area where we see the ever-increasing trend toward unethical, deceitful, and dishonest processes. There is rampant federal and state tax fraud. I know of one example where at least a year’s worth of financial documents was fabricated using PhotoShop to hide what had really been the true financial documentation of the organization. Even some charitable contributions have the dark shadow of unethical and dishonest processes behind them. A recent account was given by the chairman of an organization in which he detailed how he circumvented “the system” – which included evading costs and time doing it the honest and legal way would have required – to get a piece of medical equipment to a someone in a foreign country and it was all justified – Jeremiah 17:9 – because it was a “good deed.”  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not hurting anybody, right? Wrong! There may not be identifiable victims of the fraud being perpetrated, but people who are counting on veracity are being defrauded. Additionally, the person/people executing the unethical, deceitful, and dishonest processes are definitely hurting themselves. Right character, good character, and integrity are much more easily destroyed than they are created. The first time we use an unethical, deceitful, and dishonest process, there is usually a pang of conscience that accompanies it – if indeed, we’ve developed any kind of conscience at all.

I’ve found that if I have to spend a lot of time debating on whether I should do something or not, process-wise, and there’s a knot in my stomach to accompany the indecision, then the wisest thing is stop and review my process for integrity, honesty, and ethical correctness. However, if we ignore the pang of conscience and do it the way we want to anyway, our character is damaged. The next time the wrong way to do something to achieve a goal presents itself, it will be easier to do, because the pang of conscience has been diminished. 

So why does it matter what the process is as long as the outcome is achieved? Because once this way of doing things comes into and is accepted in just one of our processes, it eventually spreads to all of our processes. We become what we think and act on: unethical, deceitful, and dishonest from the core outward. We become unreliable, untrustworthy, and unconscionable. We also become teachers, by our examples, that any means justifies the end, and we contribute to the declination of a society that we all resoundingly lament and criticize as being what we’ve become.

Take the time to examine your processes. The good that will come of that – including all the immediate gratification that you’ll have to forego to do things the right way – will be worth it now and in the long run.