News came out today that the body of King Richard III was found under a parking lot in central England. Apparently, he died on the battlefield in gruesome fashion. It reminds us that there was a time when a leader would actually don his armor and take to battle to protect his people, their freedoms, their way of life.
Today, the White House orders drone strikes or sends in SEAL teams to execute those it maintains on a secret kill list and answers to no one, not even Congress. That’s how far we’ve come in five hundred plus years. But there’s something to be said for leaders like Richard III who held themselves accountable to their country and its people by going to battle to defend them. Likewise, there’s something wrong with a leader who holds himself above the laws that govern the rest of the country’s people.
Now I’m not specifically criticizing Obama. If you click the “answers to no one” link above and read the story you’ll find that the White House has long maintained that it is above the law when it comes to spying on, detaining or even assassinating Americans. And even if Congress could hold the White House accountable I doubt there are enough members like Oregon’s Ron Wyden with the courage and conviction to do so.
And it’s not just White House. It can be seen in the corner office, as well. Just take a look at all the corporate scandals in recent history. Enron, Worldcom, Lucent, Countrywide, Tyco, Fannie Mae, etc. are all examples of leaders who not only abandoned their own people, they set it up so that they would benefit tremendously as their people were crushed. CEOs made fortunes as rank and file employees lost their pensions, not to mention their jobs and in many cases, because they were so loyal, even their dignity.
In the investment business this same structure is on prominent display in the hedge fund world. Yes, some fund managers may have some of their money invested alongside their clients but no, unlike their clients, they don’t pay anyone 2% of their total assets and 20% of their profits every year. Make no mistake, these funds are setup to greatly benefit their managers over a short period of time and when they blow up it will be the clients who bear the brunt. Bernie Madoff is only a very extreme example of how hedge fund managers skew the very structure vastly in their favor.
It’s really a cultural phenomenon, easily witnessed in politics, business and finance, among other places. There are some examples of these folks being taken to task: Richard Nixon, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco and Bernie Madoff are some of the famous ones. Plenty of others get away with because it’s either legal or they just aren’t held accountable. Still, I believe that even if it’s legal, the mindset that allows someone to separate their interests from those whom they have committed to serve and the actions that flow out of that mindset are, in fact, fraudulent.
Fraud: deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage. Isn’t that what the president is doing when he circumvents the law to have someone spied on or killed? A breach of our confidence? Isn’t that what a CEO does when he pays himself literally 1,000 times what he pays his average employee or a hedge fund that takes similar advantage without sharing in the downside? An unfair advantage?
A true leader is committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with those who depend upon him, both metaphorically and literally. I find it surprising we don’t always hold them to this standard. Maybe the most important question to ask, however, is, ‘why do these leaders not hold themselves to this standard?’ I’m not smart enough to answer that one but I do know that it is a leadership mindset that is not hidden away or well-concealed. These guys flaunt it. And I don’t want any part of it. In my life, in my work, in my investments. It’s something I’ll avoid at all costs.