Can you guess what situation I am talking about? Something has happened, and yes investigations need to be given proper time to play out and people need to be given the benefit of the doubt and the situation is too complicated for pithy solutions and there are other fish to fry and we are in a uniquely challenging time and all that . . . but. As the leader of the organization, it's uniquely your moment, when everyone is wondering how you will respond, to come out and say something to the effect of:
"What has happened and is happening is completely unacceptable. And I will take complete responsibility to see that this does not happen again, that the people who did wrong are punished, that the people and systems that were in place to allow this to take place are held to account, and that I can look the people who were hurt and the ones who love them right in the eye and tell them that I am sorry this happened and I am doing all I can to make this right and to make sure it doesn't happen again."
I have been waiting for those words. Leaders step up and say those words, and then they back them up. Whether it is fair or not to hold our leaders to such standards is, to me, irrelevant, for perception has become reality. George W. Bush was a hero for rising up to meet his 9/11 moment, and then was punished for seeming to not take Katrina seriously enough. Barack Obama was punished in the press for not seeming to be more hands-on after the Gulf spill, and ratcheted up his anger and clenched his jaw more in response.
In the face of crises, we want our leaders to be courageous and responsible and decisive and unwavering. If instead we see excuses and blame-shifting and softness and apathy, the message has been sent: I am shying away from the moment, if people have been hurt it is not important to me, if people have done wrong it is OK on my watch, and it is acceptable for me for this sort of thing to take place so long as I am around.
Fairly or unfairly, we expect more of our leaders. Our verdicts upon them may be far too rash, based on far too little, and calibrated to an unrealistically high standard. But it's the price we pay for the buck stopping at our desk. And, if we're good, we say instead: I am seizing this moment, if people have been hurt I am profoundly sorry, if people have done wrong I will make sure to let everyone know that they will not go unpunished, and I am telling you right now that this sort of thing is completely and utterly unacceptable under my watch and I will not stand for it and I will make this right.
In the situation I am referring to, I have not yet heard those words. And I am starting to do a slow burn. You will be hearing more from me on this subject.