There were three big news stories in the last couple of days that are just depressing in the area of leadership.

The first involves two Pennsylvania judges, who agreed to plead guilty to fraud charges accusing them of taking $2.6 million in kickbacks in return for placing juvenile offenders into certain detention facilities. One of them has already resigned, while the other has agreed to resign once the judge accepts the plea agreement.

The second involves Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who becomes the third Massachusetts speaker in a row to quit the post under an ethics probe. In his case, he’s being accused of allowing a friend to lobby him, and then use his influence, to push ticket-scalping legislation on behalf of ticket brokers.

The third involves former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who was indicted Friday on charges of illegally mixing his private business dealings with state government. A federal grand jury charged that Bruno engaged in public corruption that put as much as $3.1 million into his pocket from firms seeking state business, according to an eight-count indictment filed by the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York. During his last 14 years as a state senator, Bruno was one of the most powerful men in New York state.

Add this to some of the other goings on lately in both politics and business and we’re left with a terrible trail of leaders who violated the public trust, and that of people who they worked with, by engaging in behavior that was self serving, and not what they signed on for when they accepted the positions they had. What’s left are people wondering who else is committed the same types of acts, people wondering why they’re supposed to give respect to someone just because they have a superior position, and people wondering what’s coming next. Because, whether these men want to believe it or not, the fallout isn’t only on them, or on their family members, but on everyone else who, in some way, directly or indirectly, is affected by their actions.

How do most of us feel when our trust is violated? Back in August I wrote a post where I pretty much said that the three most important traits in people, in my opinion, are loyalty, trustworthiness, and honesty. In that article, I was talking more about athletes, but it applies to people in every thread of life. Why would any of us want to willingly associate with people who don’t exhibit any of these attributes? And, if we’re not willing to do it voluntarily, then why would anyone expect us to feel differently when those attributes are found not to be legitimate, when we feel we’ve been conned?

When trust is violated, very few of us have, as a first emotion, the feeling of superiority. Instead, most of us feel letdown, stunned, shocked, surprised, and depressed. When I first heard the news about Eliot Spitzer, my first reaction wasn’t one of glee; it was one of downright surprise. However, in retrospect, his was more a personal and moral issue, and doesn’t come close to comparison with stories about Rod Blagojevich, or John Thain (although his actions weren’t criminal), or Bernard Madoff. These last three people hurt so many more people, the same as the first three men I mentioned. Still, we felt our trust was violated just the same.

There is this thing I call “sense of entitlement” that’s tough for some people to keep under control. I actually understand how it is; at a certain point, if I’ve been going to my bank for a year, I would assume that they would now know me and not ask me for my identification anymore. That’s how it is as my present bank; it was never that way at my previous bank. Last week I felt the need to say something to someone who didn’t fully appreciate Reverend Joseph Lowery’s speech at President Obama’s inauguration, where I said that the good reverend had been through some things that this person could never have imagined, and at that stage of his life he had earned the right to say whatever he wanted to say, however he wanted to say it. I truly believe there are times when someone has earned the right to things like that.

In this case, though, all of these people did things, or said things, that were self serving, taking away from the people who counted on them to do the right thing. They violated our trust; one can only hope they didn’t violate our spirit.

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