Given my age and status as a member of the great Baby-Boom generation, I am often thought of by my younger colleagues and friends as automatically being a fan of the original “Star-Trek” TV show. When I mention to them that I may have seen one Star-Trek episode in my life, they look at me as oddly as my 20-year old show producer did, thinking everyone in my generation passionately followed the show. I was just never a fan.
But, I was a fan of the late, great actor Leonard Nimoy. He really was a great deal more versatile than just his “Spock” role on Star-Trek. A number of years back, he hosted a TV show called “In Search Of”, where he would be off on an expedition hoping to find information or artifacts related to some rare or unclear item in history.
Driving out from New Haven one night, I was listening to a radio talk show out of New York where the host was commenting on all of the alleged recent breaches in trust and ethics taking place in city government, some of which are chilling…even by New York standards. I began to shake my head, wondering to myself that if Mr. Nimoy was to do an “In Search Of” show concerning ethics and responsibility in New York government, would he be able to find any? Subsequently, I could not help in thinking how strong the parallels are between situations such as this, and that of any professional-client relationship.
In over thirty-five years of practice, I have been asked to do a number of tasks by folks that, (in the words of the great Muhammad Ali), would shock and amaze you, since these tasks went far beyond that of the standard fare of my professional employment. I had always wondered why this was the case. After pondering this one evening, it dawned on me that these occurrences were based upon the biblical premise of those who are faithful in the least, are faithful in the most. The act of being faithful towards another by its own definition implies putting the interests of another ahead of one’s own. When a good practitioner or professional works to protect and effectuate tasks and wishes on behalf of a client, he or she is trusted more with more things in more ways than could ever be imagined. (Of course, the flip side is if one in a position of fiduciary counsel and trust violates those premises, the opposite effect is bound to occur.)
Over the course of time, I have had visits and calls from prospective clients who have indicated their dissatisfaction with their present adviser. When I ask them why, the answers normally fall somewhere within the following general categories:
“He never listens to me”.
“I’m tired of seeing her (vacation/conference/family event) pictures on Facebook, but she keeps dropping the ball when I ask for her to do something for me”.
“I really don’t know what I have been paying for.”
“He’s into his bigger clients. He never has time for me.”
“Did you see that (car/house/watch/ring?) Guess how she’s paying for it!”
“Its’ great that her daughter was admitted to (the college of her choice), but how does that help me with my messes?”
In all of the above complaints, you will notice a common thread. Each and every comment references a person who gives the clear perception of being their own highest priority at the ostensible expense of their client, regardless of what their personal intentions may be. It is interesting that a blanket statement of “Susie is just too expensive” is rarely heard, as good clients will pay good money for equivalent or greater value. But yes, dear readers, there are those people out there who are just into low-balling prices and are not sensitive or do not care about quality, and if it is me, I usually send those folks on their way so they can meet up with like-minded souls who can meet their need, (and more often than not, help get them into trouble).
So what does all of this practitioner-client stuff have to do with the global failures of integrity mentioned in the first paragraph of this article? (Glad you asked!) Kindly ask yourself these questions. Why didn’t General Motors listen to whistle-blowers fourteen years ago when warned of grave quality issues concerning their vehicles? Why didn’t the U.S. State Department react more acutely and proactively to the horrors that occurred in Benghazi? Why didn’t the IRS immediately dismiss those adjudicating charitable exemptions who were acting upon reasons other than those based on the Internal Revenue Manual and regulations? The answer is simple: A correction in each of the above instances would have necessitated (inter-alia) an act of contrition, an admission of guilt, a huge change in approaches, and an act of accountability resulting in a HUGE financial loss, with the removal (and well-deserved prosecution in some cases) of the functional people involved. But the key objective of any cover up going as far back to Watergate (or maybe, any cover up going as far back as Adam and Eve) is simple: protect the position, authority, profit, and property of the people involved, (period), all else be damned. For after all, we come first!
Whenever there is an act of public malfeasance where one in authority abuses power, outrage usually follows. But what is the root cause of that outrage? Its’ founded on a simple determination perhaps reiterated by some GM car owners with the realization that “these people don’t care a thing about me”. (Sounds an awful lot like our aggrieved clients said above, who really are concerned about if anyone at all, in fact, is watching their backs.)
I spent a large part of my growing up in Stamford, CT in theaters, where my Dad worked a movie projectionist. In this connection, I have many memories of motion pictures that were great (and not so great, as my long-suffering wife Kathy will attest to). But of the great films, one often stays in mind, and I have been in love with it from the day that I first saw it in the theater in 1967. This film, “The Dirty Dozen” is really based on a very simple premise. A U.S. Army Major in World War II with a checkered track record (played by Lee Marvin) is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers, that for all intents and purposes is a fatal one. The murderers are given a carrot: if they survive, they will be freed from death row and return to active duty where, they will probably be killed anyway. (As you can see, its not an uplifting set of facts we are presented with).
Now, the cast of murderers (portrayed by some of the greatest actors that have ever lived, such as Telly Savalas, John Cassavettes and Charles Bronson) start off on this charade thinking that it really makes no difference whatsoever as to if they succeed or fail, because they’re dead, no matter what. However, as time goes on, they realize that the Major shows great integrity, and has invested himself so much into this mission that he routinely casts aside his own well-being for their own, so much to the point where they raise their own self-worth, and then begin to look out for the welfare of each other.
To make this better, writer Nunnally Johnson builds in a character contrast of another Army officer, the Major’s superior Col. Everett Dasher Breed (so terrifically portrayed by Robert Ryan). Now, Col. Breed is the exact opposite of the Major, a West Point elitist of low character and zero integrity who is spit and polish, controlling and manipulating, and most importantly one who is continually reflecting the sole objective of protecting his own turf and appearances. Towards the end of the movie, as push comes to shove (and later, to shot), we all come to know his pitiful true value.
Needless to say, we’ve all had (or have) supervisors and managers like Col. Breed. You can see them coming a mile away, as they show such a lack of integrity, shallowness and substance, you can see right through them. Parenthetically, I have found over time that clients view practitioners using the same set of X-Ray eyeglasses. And in using those spectacles, what do they see? In comparison to the movie, do they feel like they are working with the Major, or the Colonel? Do they perceive us as serving them (or, the other way around) I do realize that this is heavy premise, but it is one that is nonetheless true.
For all of us in practice, I would suggest that the newness of the Spring may be a good time to look in the mirror, and ask ourselves: Why are we here? And who do we serve? Each and every one of us has a major trust placed in us.
Please accept my best wishes for a great June.
Tony De Angelo