If a bank regulator for the Federal Reserve can’t ask uncomfortable questions without losing her job, what hope is there for the rest of us?
“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
–Franklin D Roosevelt in his first inaugural address.
Carmen Segarra knows about fear and the cost of “converting retreat into advance.” Carmen was a a Federal bank regulator assigned to regulate Goldman Sachs, a prominent investment bank. She was fired for being too direct, for asking questions that were awkward for people at Goldman Sachs and her bosses at the Federal Reserve.
Carmen just wanted to do her job, which was to regulate. Her bosses at the Fed wanted to do that too, but preferred an approach so subtle it was easy for Goldman Sachs to ignore. They were afraid that asking direct questions would offend the people they were regulating and those people would withhold the information they needed to regulate them.
It would be funny if it weren’t so very dangerous.
Friendly or Captured?
Getting too close to those you are supposed to regulate is so common, it has a name: Regulatory Capture. In the consulting world it’s called “going native.” There is a thin line between having a friendly, harmonious relationship and being ineffective. It’s impossible to know which side of the line you’re on, unless you are willing to test it.
“I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear. What it comes down to…is that fear is an excuse: ‘I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn’t.’ Fear is so opportunistic that people can call on it under the slightest provocations: ‘He looked at me funny…’ Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”
We destroy our effectiveness when we let fear run the show. When we justify our ineffectiveness, we give fear far too much territory. And, given an inch, fear will take a mile. Don’t let it. You can do the thing you need to do.
See Paris First
I quoted a poem I love in my online program for consultants, and I’m going to quote it here. When fear has ahold of us, it’s not skill we need, it’s courage. The poem, “See Paris Fist, by Marsha Truman Cooper gives me that courage:
* * * * *
Suppose that what you fear
could be trapped,
and held in Paris.
Then you would have
the courage to go
everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
open to you,
except the degrees east or west
of true north
that lead to Paris.
Still, you wouldn’t dare
put your toes
smack dab on the city limit line.
You’re not really willing
to stand on a mountainside
and watch the Paris lights
come up at night.
Just to be on the safe side
you decide to stay completely
out of France.
But then danger
seems too close
even to those boundaries,
and you feel
the timid part of you
covering the whole globe again.
You need the kind of friend
who learns your secret and says,
“See Paris first.”
* * * * *
Let’s be that kind of friend for each other, shall we?