The recent debacle surrounding New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has dominated the media headlines in the last few days. While I have long made it a point not to sit in judgment of others as it is very difficult to properly connect the dots from afar, it is my belief that there is something to be learned from any gross error in judgment. In today’s post, I’ll attempt to stay away from personal accusations and will provide you with my thoughts about what can be learned from such a tragic and public mistake…

Regardless of how you feel about Governor Spitzer and his recent actions, he is still after all more than a businessman and politician he is a human being who is a husband, father, and community member. Even when the facts stack-up against someone and there is no doubt as to fault or guilt, I always find it tragic when people’s lives are reduced to gossip and innuendo. Humans are imperfect creatures, and I have yet to come across any business leader or politician who can’t rattle off several decisions that they wish they hadn’t made. It just so happens that some mistakes are more public and tragic than others, and for most people, it is much easier to point the finger at those who have been in the spotlight rather than to deal with their own private indiscretions.

It is also important to note that there are indeed at least two sides to every story and that what oftentimes appears in the media as hard news can actually be editorial commentary that may, or may not, portray the reality of a given situation.

Furthermore, just knowing someone who knows someone will rarely provide you with accurate information relating to the actual events of a situation…especially one veiled in controversy.

Okay, I’ll climb down from my soapbox for a moment and provide you with some perspective surrounding Mr. Spitzer’s activities over the past few days. While some of my comments below specifically address my thoughts regarding Mr. Spitzer’s mistakes, I would encourage you to take a step back and read the following commentary with the bigger picture in mind As you read the following comments think about your perspective on people as well as about how you choose to view life in general:

The Facts: Wrongdoing is certainly wrongdoing, and even the best of intentions don’t justify deviant behavior. That being said, good intentions had nothing to do with Mr. Spitzer’s actions. If the allegations in play turn out to be substantiated (which appears to be the case), federal crimes were committed, the public trust of his constituents was violated, and his family has been devastated. Whether or not he is prosecuted is not really the issue here…He will resign or be impeached, his dream of someday becoming President of the United States has gone up in flames, his reputation has been harmed, and worst of all he has emotionally and psychologically hurt his wife, three teenage daughters, and his extended family as well.

Why this Happened: From my perspective, this is not just a simple case of sexual addiction. While his personal indiscretions appeared to have gone on for years, through my lens of observation this appears to be a case of the poor decision upon poor decision, further compounded by an out of check ego, pride, arrogance, an addiction to power, and quite possibly an extreme case of narcissism bordering on sociopathic behavior. When all is said and done, I believe you’ll find the consensus opinion to be that Mr. Spitzer felt himself to be above the law. Wealthy beyond means, Princeton and Harvard educated, a political crusader with his eyes set on the White House, Eliot Spitzer felt invincible.

What We Should All Take Away From This: Nobody is invincible or above the law…Some notable quotes also seem to apply here: “pride comes before the fall”, “don’t let your ego write checks you cannot afford to cash”, and “your sins will surely find you out”. In this media and technology-driven world, nothing will be kept a secret for long. Whether recorded in audio, video, IM files, phone records, credit card history, e-mail archives, personal testimony, or any number of other forensic audit trails, NOTHING IS TRULY PRIVATE. Therefore, my suggestion is that you consider your thoughts and actions carefully when decisioning anything of consequence. I would recommend putting any meaningful decision up against the following litmus test:

  1. Perform a Situation Analysis: What is motivating the need for a decision? Who will the decision impact (both directly and indirectly)? What data, analytics, research, or supporting information do you have to validate your decision?
  2. Subject your Decision to Public Scrutiny: There are no private decisions Sooner or later the details surrounding any decision will likely come out. If your decision were printed on the front page of the newspaper how would you feel? What would your family think of your decision? How would your shareholders, constituents, and employees feel about your decision? Have you sought counsel and/or feedback before making your decision?
  3. Conduct a Cost/Benefit Analysis: Do the potential benefits derived from the decision to justify the expected costs? What if the costs exceed projections and the benefits fall short of projections?
  4. Assess the Risk/Reward Ratio: What are all the possible rewards and when contrasted with all the potential risks are the odds in your favor or are they stacked against you?
  5. Assess Whether it is the Right Thing To Do: Standing behind decisions that everyone supports doesn’t particularly require a lot of chutzpah. On the other hand, standing behind what one believes is the right decision in the face of tremendous controversy is the stuff great leaders are made of. My wife has always told me that “you can’t go wrong by going right” and as usual I find her advice to be spot on Never compromise your value system, your character, or your integrity. Do the right thing…
  6. Make The Decision: Perhaps most importantly you must have a bias toward action and be willing to make the decision. Moreover, you must learn to make the best decision possible even if you possess an incomplete data set. Don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis but rather make the best decision possible with the information at hand using some of the methods mentioned above. Opportunities and not static and the law of diminishing returns applies to most opportunities in that the longer you wait to seize the opportunity the smaller the return typically is. In fact, more likely is the case that the opportunity will completely evaporate if you wait too long to seize it.

Lastly, here is some food for thought…It has been my experience that those most critical of certain behaviors likely have their own issues they’re trying to distract attention from (case in point, Mr. Spitzer aggressively prosecuting prostitution crimes). What we should all be concerned with is not judging others, but rather how we treat other individuals in general during both the best of times and in the worst of times. Don’t allow yourself to be a fair-weather friend, a gossip, or insensitive jerk Rather understand that most of us are not privy to the inner thoughts of others and their motivations. We need to keep in mind that all people make mistakes and that mistakes don’t necessarily make you evil they just make you human.


Image credit: NBC News