Today’s question: What do the following people have in common?

Bill Clinton, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Lance Armstrong, Richard Nixon, Alex Rodriguez, Gen. David Patreus, Gen. George Patton, Gary Hart, John Edwards and Milli Vanilli.

Answer: All of these famous people were at or near the top of their game when they did something really stupid and got smacked down hard as a result. (OK, yes, Milli Vanilli is really two people. Actually, I included them in part because they were involved in a scandal, but more because I like saying the name. “Milli Vanilli.” Sounds like it should be a frozen yogurt flavor.)

There is no end to the list. It seems like every week we learn about an athlete, movie star or politician who does something outrageous and we always wonder, “What were you thinking?”

The answer is quite simple: Power corrupts. Powerful people behave hypocritically and they are far less inclined than the rest of us to be concerned about the damage left in their wake.

All of this has been documented in numerous studies of the effects of power. After researching the effects of power, Dr. Joris Lammers at Tilburg University, Netherlands, and Dr. Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University, came to the conclusion that, “… people with power that they think is justified break rules not only because they can get away with it, but also because they feel at some intuitive level that they are entitled to take what they want. This sense of entitlement is crucial to understanding why people misbehave in high office.” (The Economist, Jan. 21, 2010)

That’s fairly easy to understand and even agree with, but does it answer the question, “What were you thinking?” Almost.

To really answer that question, The Economist concluded that, “If Dr. Lammers and Dr. Galinsky are right, the sense which some powerful people seem to have that different rules apply to them is not just a convenient smoke screen. They genuinely believe it.”

That is it. Boiled down to its essence, those in positions of power or status don’t have the same hard wiring as the rest of us. Whereas you or I may wonder about the consequences of our actions and may even stop what we’re doing because of those consequences, powerful people are not wired that way. They don’t even think about “getting away with it” – it’s just not on their radar. Like the honey badger in the famous video, they do what they want and don’t care.

This may help explain why John Caldecott is questioning N-MUSD Supt. Frederick Navarro over:

  • Discrepancies with recurring payments to an administrator for extra days beyond the work year and discrepancies in reporting to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS)
  • Justification, transparency, equity and timing of proposed performance pay increases for two specific administrators
  • Justification, timing and transparency of changes to the certificated management salary schedule
  • Questionable STRS reporting practices and ignoring Caldecott’s request for a forensic audit
  • Non-standard initial salary placement and interference by the Supt. during salary offer process for a management employee hire

There’s more. And this does not include Caldecott’s charges of a “hostile and abusive working environment.” I’m not addressing those at this time because clearly, Caldecott has never worked in an ad agency. All kidding aside, those charges are among the “potential improper governmental activities” he is claiming.

The hostile environment is one issue. When you are suspected of messing with taxpayer money, that’s quite another. That’s the line in the sand.

What makes Johnny run?

A past post wondered why Caldecott would risk his job to bring these items to the attention of the board. The guy had a killer job: Good compensation, a position of authority, working for a highly respected organization.

But Caldecott saw wrong and tried to right it. And when he was told he would have his day in court, he believed it. That’s how he is wired.

Another post offered that perhaps this time, the N-MUSD Trustees – Martha Fluor, Judy Franco, Walt Davenport, Charlene Metoyer, Vicki Snell, Dana Black, and Karen Yelsey – have underestimated the ex-employee who is bringing all this unwanted attention. John Caldecott is not a custodian who was caught drinking on the job, or a bus driver who was texting while driving. Caldecott was the head of human resources – he is the guy who knows where all the bodies are buried. This is a guy who is playing on his home court – he knows the players better than anyone and he knows the rules better than anyone. He knows them so well that’s it’s not unusual for representatives from other districts to call him for an opinion.

But there is another reason. Caldecott’s father was a judge. Caldecott grew up in an environment in which injustice was one of the great evils of mankind and must be fought regardless of the cost.

So where Navarro and the Trustees don’t care because they don’t want to, Caldecott cares because he must.