I doubt it was the leader’s objective to inform others that he was not a virtuous person. Yet, he clearly sent the cautionary message during the meeting.
Specifically, his statement to his cross-functional teammates was, “You can’t trust people around here. I never have – and never will.”
I cringed, thinking about what psychologists call the Reticular Activating System (RAS). Located at the base of our brain where a mesh of nerve endings converges, the RAS helps us make sense of our world by directing the subconscious to collect millions of bits of data in seconds.
The RAS is bent on efficiency. It operates from beliefs we have formed (knowingly or unknowingly). Like a flashlight, it then centers our conscious attention on that which we are most focused. In other words, if we believe something about the world around us, our RAS is going to find the evidence to prove we are right.
This is why when we tell others how we see our world we foreshadow to people how we will operate in their world.
This is not to suggest that if we believe “you can’t trust people around here” that we should pretend the world is perfectly virtuous. That’s naïve. Instead, our opportunity is to regularly assess and question how we see the world around us.
And then provide others with the evidence they crave: That we can be trusted.