This past Sunday March 13, I arrived in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for a three-day business trip. The focus was to meet with my Brazilian LHH colleagues and to speak to some of our customers about leadership accountability and the ideas in my book, The Leadership Contract.
Little did I know before I left for my trip how important the whole issue of leadership accountability was going to be during my visit.
As my flight was landing in Sao Paolo, millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest and demand the resignation of President Dilma Rousseff. They were reacting to a corruption scandal that has ravaged the government and a serious decline in the country’s economy.
What a backdrop for my trip and the many discussions about leadership that I would have over the three days.
The first of those discussions was actually with the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel. During the ride, he went on and on about the poor state of the country’s leadership. By the time we finally got to my hotel, he admitted he was “disgusted” by what was going on.
While the protests were taking part quite some distance from my hotel, I could still hear people yelling and cars honking all afternoon. When it was all said and done, an estimated three million Brazilians participated in the protests. It was a peaceful demonstration involving a wide swath of Brazilian society including the young and old, and families with children.
What would cause so many Brazilians to protest in the streets? Brazil has been gripped by a story of corruption and scandal that has been unraveling over the past several years.
A police investigation – dubbed Operation Car Wash – has revealed many of President Rousseff supporters, donors and members of her government’s inner circle were involved in bribery and kickback schemes that may have reached all the way to the president’s office.
It appears that key political and business leaders in Brazil twisted or broke rules to help the government win elections and enable high profile companies to get exclusive access to government business. In the final analysis, there is much that is rotten in Brazil’s government including Rousseff, who seems to have betrayed the trust of her people.
So I could understand the deeply emotional reactions I would hear about in the many conversations that I had during my trip.
Many Brazilians I spoke to were proud the protests were peaceful and hoped this would encourage the bad leaders to admit their mistakes, and either step down voluntarily or face impeachment.
Other people I spoke to were full of anger and disappointment. They were completely disillusioned with senior government officials and business leaders.
I’ve seen many of these same reactions from employees that worked in companies embroiled in scandal. The emotions in these scenarios can be intense.
In companies, employees rarely protest to show their disgust or disappointment. Instead, they will engage in a silent protest. Some disillusioned employees will simply check out and begin to neglect their work. When they see their senior leaders behave badly and betray their trust, they think to themselves “why should I even care or bother?”
A while ago I wrote about the importance of being a trustworthy leader. I went back to that blog and in light of what I witnessed and experienced this week in Brazil, I believe it’s valuable for all of us as leaders to do a regular trustworthiness check. Here are some questions for you to consider:
Are you seen as a trustworthy leader by your direct reports and colleagues?
Are you a leader that others can place their trust in you?
Do others believe that you will not betray their trust?
As you reflect on these questions, what are the themes in your answer? Are you a leader that inspires the people you lead? Or are you one that creates feelings of disgust, disappointment, or even disillusionment?
This week’s leadership gut check asks: Are you betraying the trust of the people you lead?