In a recent radio interview Simon Sinek, author of two books on leadership, spoke about his latest, "Leaders Eat Last." He told the story of St. Louis technology manufacturing firm Barry-Wehmiller, a company that was in crisis when current CEO Bob Chapman took over. Morale, especially among the rank and file, was extremely low and the work atmosphere was one of paranoia and distrust.
Chapman set about finding out why and discovered many of the problems revolved around a double standard. While management was trusted to conduct its work responsibilities with few restrictions, labor was subjected to more paternalistic measures. For instance, while white-collar workers could pick up a company phone if they needed to call their families, blue-collar workers had to use pay phones. White-collar employees were trusted to arrive at and leave work according to agreed-upon time conditions; blue-collar workers were ruled by whistles and time clocks.
Micro-managing parents, Sinek observed, do not produce high functioning children and the same principle holds true for bosses and employees. Chapman took the courageous step of trusting his people and treating them as adults; they responded in kind. Barry-Wehmiller is now considered a model company, one where management and labor work together to achieve positive results. Ultimately, people want control over their own lives and decisions and a healthy, respectful environment gives them both.
The parallels between this corporate situation and our current political atmosphere are too obvious to be ignored. The lack of trust Americans invest in their political, social and educational leaders is rivaled only by the absence of trust they receive in return. Paranoia runs rampant among the ruled while the rulers seek to eliminate any negative outcomes through increasingly paternalistic measures. As Sinek stated, micromanagement does not produce competence and our meddlesome government increasingly produces a citizenry whose collective emotional age ranges from dependent child to rebellious teenager.
A stepping stone toward the current tension-filled relationship between government and the governed was placed in the early 20th century with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which established Prohibition. Over the decades, both recreational and medicinal drug laws have reinforced the idea that outside authorities have the right to tell us what we can and cannot put in our bodies. In more recent times 1980s’ legislation that compelled seatbelt use established the dangerous precedent that others know best how you should keep yourself safe. Since then myriad laws have been instated to control our actions with regard to our own bodies. Fats, sugars, salt -- it is all suspect and therefore fair game for regulation by either our federal or state nannies. And it is not just our physical selves they concern themselves with -- this "we’re doing it for your own good" pretext extends into every aspect of our lives. We are not trusted to do right by ourselves or others.
At the same time, society’s regulators demonstrate a complete lack of self-control in both their professional and personal lives. Whether disdaining their charge to control the growth of government spending or failing to live personal lives of goodness and sobriety, far too many members of the ruling class have shown they are better at telling us what to do than doing it themselves. As ugly as they are, the sex and drug scandals that pop up on a regular basis are almost yawn-worthy when compared to the corruption that seems an integral part of the government culture. The same people who regularly castigate the average taxpayer for wishing to keep more of that which he or she earns exhibit greed and excess far beyond the most Americans’ comprehension. It is no wonder we exist in a state of mutual distrust.
Distrust is most damaging on a personal level when it causes us to question our own reasonable conclusions and invades our relationships. Despite frequent positive interactions with all kinds of people, the politics of gender, race, class and every other divisive category can cause us to doubt our own experiences. Can we trust our own eyes, our own minds, and our own hearts?
Actually, we can. We can ignore and marginalize those who benefit from creating disharmony and suspicion and set about building honest, genuine relationships between ourselves, our neighbors and those with whom we do business. On an individual level, we can develop and exhibit the virtues that make us ourselves trustworthy. And we can remind those who would govern that leadership is not declared, it is deserved. Step one toward that prize is regaining the trust so many have abused for so long. They might start by extending the same toward us.
Audrey Pietrucha is a member of the executive board of Vermonters for Liberty. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.