Lay 'Shocked' by Enron Verdict—Former Enron Chiefs Convicted in One of the Biggest Business Scandals in U.S. History--headline for one of the first articles written about the verdict of former Enron Chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling By Kristen Hays, the associated press, jumps off the page with stark clarity.
One wonders how either executive could be ‘Shocked’ by the verdict. Don’t they know right from wrong? Don’t they realize their ruthless business tactics not only destroyed the seventh largest corporation in America, but also devastated thousands of people’s lives—employees and investors. $60 billion in market value; $2.1 billion value of pension plans and 5,600 jobs were lost in Enron's collapse.
The answer to those questions is more shocking than Lay being shocked at his conviction. The shocking answer is: Neither Skilling nor Lay believe they did anything wrong.
There is an explanation for this obvious moral and ethical disconnect.
It is a sociological fact that men are primarily valued for achievement, financial success and heroism. Being valued for achievement, success and ‘heroism’ produces arrogance and grandiosity: “I can do no wrong; I am entitled; I can do whatever I want and get away with it.” "The end justifies the means."
Preoccupation with their own gratification in combination with lack of regard for others propels this behavior. Thus, in a vain attempt to fill themselves up, manipulators need bigger and bigger acts to fill the emptiness inside—not unlike the alcoholic—they become addicted to the chase and headiness of the win. It becomes an insidious downward spiral as they push the limits further and further to create the next emotional high.
There is a healthy level of self-centeredness and self-involvement, a feeling of excellence that is the natural companion of true accomplishment. Indeed, a certain degree of self-centeredness and self-involvement is considered a prerequisite to success. But the pathological form of self-centeredness and self-involvement impels people to achieve for neurotic reasons.
Closely tied to striving for achievement in unhealthy self-absorption is a need to fail. If your self-esteem is so fragile that you are unable to believe praise, you feel guilty and conflicted about success because you don’t believe you deserve it. Such people vacillate between a sense of undeserved success and a feeling of worthlessness.
It is a psychological fact that women are more concerned about their insides than about insider trading, hedging bets and pushing the limits. Women are inner-oriented and interested in everything—from the insides of their psyches to the inventory of their pantries. Girls are taught and rewarded for nurturing and supportive behavior, which requires self-examination and introspection. Boys, on the other hand, are taught that to be valued they must achieve and even be ‘heroes.’
Limits are stricter for girls; boys grow up to feel more comfortable scheming and testing out where the edge of the law is at home and in the community. In my practice I often hear parents say, “I never set a curfew for my son, because I know the girls’ parents set a curfew and the boys will be less likely to stay out longer than the girls.” The unspoken message is “Boys don’t need limits.” And for boys, the consequences of unacceptable behavior are less harsh. Unacceptable behavior in girls often leads to tangible negative consequences—suspension of allowance or privileges, being grounded or required to perform tasks—while the negative consequence for a boy is often merely, ‘a talking to.’ Boys get the message that scheming and flaunting limits is acceptable—or at least, that there is no real price to pay.
Without limits, appropriate impulse control does not develop. Children look for limits, and unless they find them, they continue to push, becoming anxious when there seems to be no end to how far they can go. When a parent fails to set limits, the child feels unimportant and unloved. Limits and negative consequences for breaching them, on the other hand, reassure children that they are noticed and that someone cares.
Lack of limits or of enforcement of limits, coupled with the societal message that males must be ‘heroes’ and achieve success, puts tremendous pressure on men to scheme and push the limits in order to be valued. Those who manipulate to get what they want believe they must perform, produce and create bigger and bigger acts of ‘heroism’ to feel valued and powerful, as well as in order to allay their fears of vulnerability (resulting from lack of impulse control) and the humiliation of failure (the ultimate sign of unworthiness).
Since there are fewer women than men in positions of power, it stands to reason that fewer women abuse it. But there is a more intimate reason for the absence of women in the scandals of abuse of power.
When women feel the fear of failure or success, they lose their self-esteem, not their integrity. As a result, they berate themselves and work harder to succeed within the system.
Whatever these men achieve is viewed as a means to an end—that is, the continual search for love and approval. They often don’t know what their moral standards are. They haven’t experienced consequences as a result of transgressing limits during the critical maturational stages. As adults, they get themselves in trouble as punishment for having gotten something that, deep-down, they do not believe they deserve to have. They are seeking the negative consequences and limit-setting that they wanted/needed as children. Former WorldCom CEO, Bernard Ebbers, former Enron Corp. chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling continued to manipulate the system more and more until the people around them could no longer be ignore or be a party to their flagrant abuse of power.
Richard Nixon, Oliver North, et al and more recently, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Tom DeLay, Carl Rove, George W. Bush et al, are also, people who, on one level, want ‘the ultimate hero’ label, but on another level, they don’t believe they are worthy. Thus, they continually scheme, test and manipulate situations in ways that ensure they will eventually be caught.
On a conscious level, the only thing people, who abuse power, fear is being caught. Nevertheless, unconsciously, they want to be caught because they feel out of control. They often profess the greatest respect for the law, and many are lawyers; yet, paradoxically, they push the limits of the law and when caught, their first step is to hire the best lawyer possible to manipulate the law in their favor—thus continuing their grandiose manipulation of the system. Furthermore, lawyers who manipulate the system are the lawyers who created the laws with loop holes and room for interpretation—perpetually continuing a self-serving system. It is only fair, however, to point out that the system works in the favor of justice as well.
The profile of women who abuse positions of power is the same as that of men—with one exception. The exception is that they act for or because of a man, or have a man behind them. Sandra Brown, the first woman to launch a Federally Licensed Small Business Investment Company and many other innovative ventures, was convicted in Colorado for kiting $1.3 million. Her live-in companion and chief aide, a co-defendant, was behind her, as was her male attorney, who pleaded guilty and turned state’s evidence. Acting for a man were Bess Myerson and Judge Hortense Gable, indicted on charges of reducing Myerson’s lover’s alimony settlement in exchange for a job for the judge’s daughter in Myerson’s office as Commissioner of Consumer Affairs of New York City. More recently, Martha Stewart reportedly committed insider trading on the advice of her friend and confidant, ImClone Systems CEO, Sam Waksal. Stewart was convicted of four counts of obstructing justice and lying to investigators about a well-timed stock sale—not insider trading. As her accomplice, Stewart’s male stockbroker was convicted of the same counts.
What can be done? If you are a parent, set limits for your children both male and female. If the limits are transgressed, enforce negative consequences immediately. If you are a boss or manager, hold all employees accountable for the methods they use to achieve a goal. Lines of responsibility and accountability need to be outlined in performance standards and judiciously followed with consequences for non-compliance.
“Negative consequences” does not mean “punitive.” Punitive invites retaliation and damages self-esteem. Verbal berating and hitting/spanking are examples of punitive consequences, as is any consequence out of proportion to the offense. An appropriate negative consequence for missing a curfew, for example, would be taking away the car for one weekend evening, or two evenings for a second offense. A younger child could be penalized by making him/her stay in his/her room for an evening without TV and or items of amusement. If the child is angry about the consequence, empathize rather than punishing further. Talking with your child regarding how he/she is in control of whether he/she has consequences is highly effective. The anger is appropriate and needs to be processed with empathy and discussion, additional punishment would be punitive.
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, author, speaker and inspirational specializes in: Mind, Body, Spirit healing and Physical/Sexual Abuse Prevention and Recovery. Dr. Neddermeyer empowers people to view life's challenges as an opportunity for Personal/Professional Awareness and Spiritual Awakening. http://www.drdorothy.net
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