Betraying trust: The crash and burn of Jian Ghomeshi

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Jian Ghomeshi in Vancouver (2009 -- Wikipedia photo)
Jian Ghomeshi in Vancouver (2009 -- Wikipedia photo)
Jian Ghomeshi in Vancouver (2009 — Wikipedia photo)

The sudden, and rather dramatic crash of Canadian Broadcasting Corp’s Jian Ghomeshi‘s career may seem a little distant from architectural, engineering and construction marketing challenges. Yet this story, still unfolding, touches the core of power, morality and media publicity — and the high-stakes complications when things go very wrong.

Ghomeshi has been accused of abusing women. I’m constrained in reporting the details (and wouldn’t add to the story as obviously I have no personal experience), but his career as an arts and entertainment program radio host came to an abrupt end last week when he faced an “outing” for his personal indiscretions (which may have touched into workplace abuse, as well.) It seems rumours had been spreading for a few months — and the Toronto Star newspaper had been investigating the story — but it didn’t go public until he was dismissed and then went public, himself, on his own Facebook page. (If you aren’t familiar with the story, you will find this Facebook posting to be one of the most unusual you will view in your life.)

He contracted with high-powered public relations experts and lawyers, but the PR experts have walked, apparently (according to The Star), because he “lied” to them.

We can only speculate, considering the number of women involved and his high-profile, while this story took so long to surface. The answer might be seen in power/dominance  and fear — and when things get wildly out of balance, the powerful/dominant person can control the behaviour of others through fear.

TrustIn the end, trust broken, Ghomeshi will probably end up a broken man. (However, he certainly can, and should, have the opportunity to give his side of the story, and he has not been charged with any criminal offences.) His individual perceptions of right and wrong here, however, probably don’t correlate with social norms, and ultimately he has a lot of explaining to do, as I expect more sordid details will emerge in the future.

When you read stories like this, you might think it is best to play it safe. Let’s stick to the tried and true, the standard protocol, the gold-shovel ground-breaking ceremonies; the grip-and-grin charitable contributions, RFP responses and news releases written like they are generated by a bureaucratic word-grinding machine. “Don’t rock the boat,” “play it safe,” “work within bounds” — all have resonance here.

Yet this is probably an unfortunate over-reaction. This week I’ve explored various aspects of trust in construction marketing, and it is helpful to be vulnerable, to show our weaknesses, sometimes to take real risks, to experiment, be true, and earn and maintain the respect of our clients and, through that, begin to capture the referral business, recommendations and reputation that lead to new business.

We can of course try to paper over our deficiencies, put up a mythical tale, lie, cheat, or be abusive, and cover it with a veneer of respectability — and might get away with that sort of stuff for a while. However, while nothing is certain in the world, the morality plays usually end with the good guys winning. Be true. Earn, and respect the trust you have earned.

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