The Age of Shame

There’s an epidemic of massive proportion moving across this country at the speed of light. It has swept up the high and mighty – politicians, actors, corporate chieftains and many a lesser soul. Careers have been ruined and reputations destroyed. Why? All because of a pattern of bad behavior that is no longer being tolerated in today’s society. Claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and racism are reaching a crescendo with no sign of abatement. We have officially entered the Age of Shame.

Entrepreneurs need to pay particular attention to this trend. We have an opportunity to do great things, but we can easily be derailed by our own actions. This is really very simple. We must be respectful of others at all times – period. We don’t make inappropriate comments to or advances on anyone else. We don’t take actions that could be construed as discriminatory of others. We treat others as we would want to be treated.

There’s a dangerous downside to the Age of Shame. The frenzy of accusations has created a lynch mob mentality. No longer are we innocent until proven guilty. Now, convictions are swift in the court of social media. There are no trials in the current “me too” environment. We can easily become ensnared in this cycle unless we take extra care to avoid it.

Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer all have something in common. It’s called arrogance. These men thought their station in life entitled them to boorishness and worse. This sense of entitlement led them to become arrogant and fostered a belief that they were bulletproof. As entrepreneurs we may realize a great deal of success. The best way to inoculate ourselves from arrogance is to remember this. The more successful we become the more humble we should become. It’s easy to develop “swagger” with success. I’m not a fan of swagger. It’s too easy for it to become an in-your-face gesture which in turn can lead to the arrogance we must guard against.

We can avoid the Age of Shame and its corresponding pain, and replace it with our own Age of Gain. We have much to gain if we do it right. We can display the highest level of integrity and model the type of behavior that others can admire. We are color-blind, gender-blind, sexual-preference-blind and national-origin-blind. Our objective is to focus on pursuing our mission and vision utilizing all of the talent that we have available. Once again the simple calculus is that we are respectful of others at all times.

The notion of respect is easy to understand. When our team members, our customers and our vendors feel respected, they are much less likely to take offense at something we might say or do that could be misconstrued. In other words, we buy goodwill that allows us the benefit of the doubt. Harvey Weinstein didn’t get the benefit of the doubt because he was such a tyrant. On the other hand, if everyone we know sees our motives as pure, an unintentional faux pas may be overlooked.

Character really counts these days. Rightly or wrongly there’s a lot of judging going on. Walking the straight and narrow truly matters. Being completely honest isn’t just a hallmark – it’s absolutely necessary to survive in the current environment. Keeping our reputation intact is essential to navigating the minefield of shameful accusations and hyper-reactions that we are witnessing daily.

When we are respectful of others at all times, we are less likely to be a casualty in the culture war that is raging. In so doing, we can sleep at night without worrying about the consequences that we might otherwise face.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 75 – O-Fer.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

June 1, 2014 – Frankfurt Am Main, Hessen, Germany – Sexual harrassment at work: A businessman is touching his female co-worker’s leg. (Credit Image: © Frank May/DPA via ZUMA Press)

Male Pink Flamingos

Question: I have some less than flattering physical traits. Should I consider cosmetic surgery to keep my appearance from negatively impacting my success as an entrepreneur?

Answer: This question reminds me of the male pink flamingo. I’m going to stereotype here, so bear with me. For past generations (including mine) the color pink is more often associated with femininity than with masculinity. So metaphorically imagine what it must be like for the male pink flamingo. He lives his entire adult existence cloaked in bright pink. And yet it doesn’t seem to bother him one whit.

OK, I know pink flamingos are birds, and birds aren’t self-conscious. Which makes the point. Why as humans are we so concerned about our physical idiosyncrasies? There’s no question that society still gives a slight edge to beautiful people. But first impressions don’t make the world go round. It’s the substance of our character and the depth of our passion that is vital to building and sustaining relationships. I’ll bet if we made a consensus list of famous entrepreneurs we’ll find few that would make a casting call in Hollywood. I won’t name names, but can attest to the fact that this list includes the tall, the short, the very short, the rotund, the bald, the wrinkled, the liver-spotted . . . you get the picture. And when we see a photo of one of these women or men what are we thinking? I don’t see the thick glasses, but I do see an amazing bright individual who has achieved great things.

For most of us, the trouble started when we reached puberty. We were so intent on being attractive to the opposite sex that we often saw ourselves as just the opposite. And every little childhood slight magnified our feelings of inadequacy. Fortunately with age comes maturity (usually) and for the most part we are able to let go of our desire to look like we did when we were 17. But every once in a while we look in the mirror and self-doubts bubble up.

Self-doubts may simply be replaced with self-awareness. Are we well-groomed? Are our clothes clean and pressed? Do we have a smile on our face and exude a positive attitude? As an entrepreneur, I can tell you that I’ve met with some people who were wearing $2,000 Armani suits or carrying $7,500 Hermes Birkin handbags and everything about their appearance, attitude and mannerisms told me they were trying too hard. Likewise, I’ve met with entrepreneurs who were wearing off-the-rack at Wal-Mart and had childhood acne scars but were truly extroverted and genuine. Who do you suppose I trusted more and wanted to do business with?

Like the male pink flamingo we can make the choice to be comfortable in our own skin. Then the first impression we make will be about the things that really matter.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

pink flamingos