Good Guys And Bad Guys
Apologies if this gets a little long, but this is an idea that’s been bubbling away for me to quite some time now. Like everyone, I love to watch films – and I really enjoy a good action or spy thriller. Recent events in my life and career brought me to a realisation about how we view people, and how we categorise them that was quite a revelation – although it’s extremely simple, and (hopefully) easily articulated by talking about movie baddies.
We’ve got these guys… the good guys.
We’re not talking about them though.
Then we’ve got these guys.
They’re bad. They know it. Everyone knows it. They’re not even sorry. We’re not left in any doubt here. Pure, proper villain.
But then, you’ve got these guys:
They all work for the villain. But actually, we don’t know a lot about them. Some of them are clearly pretty bad too. They’ve got guns and willingly carry out pretty evil orders.
But what about this chap?
He’s just sat at a computer doing a job – he might not even have a clue what’s really going on and what evil machinations his boss is up to. I mean, it’s entirely possible he’s just there on a temporary contract because he was let go from his call centre job… my point is, we just don’t know anything about him.
BUT… when the eventual fight scene happens, these guys are in for it. They get shot, punched, thrown into the volcano or off the rope bridge in their hundreds.
So, in a very basic sense, when the good guy kills the big main bad guy, you give a little cheer, and that’s a happy ending. And in the same way, killing these other guys is another positive successful step on the way to victory. In other words, they have become evil or ‘bad’ simply through association. They have inherited the same credibility, status and public opinion as the people they are employed or led by.
Now, I’m not suggesting we need to question or change our morality when watching films. That’s how you’re meant to feel, and it’s the point of their entertainment. But what I am saying, is that I think we do this in real life. A company or an organisation that has offended you or treated you unfairly will probably be made up of people who really have little choice but to do their jobs – and a core nucleus somewhere of not very nice people.
If you’re not sure about this, talk to anyone who has been working in a bank for the last 15 years and see how people react when they tell them the name of their employer. Try asking someone who works in the claims department of an insurance company and see how easily a policy holder forgives them personally, for the decision of their employer to deny their claim.
Equally, I recently had the very uncomfortable experience of telling a chap who I like very much that I would no longer work with his organisation because I did not respect or trust his senior director. It’s not his fault, he’s a great guy – but he works for a guy I consider to be a bit of a crook… and that is his fault, ultimately.
There are two real points to what I’m trying to say here:
Firstly, you can not ever, fully disassociate yourself from the companies you work for, the organisations you follow or subscribe to and the people whose opinions you share, advocate or even just tolerate. Who you endorse and who you support says something about you, and when your employer becomes someone’s adversary, you can’t avoid the fact that on some level, you will too – or at least experience a considerable conflict of interest.
The second point is for employers and leaders. You need to think about who you are, because your choices and your ethics have suddenly become the inheritance of every single person who follows you. In a world where secrets are hard to keep and news travels in seconds, your actions determine the happiness, status and life conditions of your team in a way that you need to consider with great care. So, you have a responsibility to your clients, your staff, your followers – they’ve trusted you with their endorsement and their support. If you betray it, you actually damage them. If you go down in flames, in some way you take them all with you. And, further more, their support can always be lost. Your actions and the public evaluation of your moral compass will lead people to follow you, but equally if it points in the wrong direction, it will repel people from you in droves.