A site of endless curiosity

Can you be embarrassed? – What to learn from Rod Blagojevich

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Or, “nothing but sunshine hanging over me.”

See our related posting:  Good To Great Part II: The Gift of Governor Rod Blagojevich

writerThe case of Illinois Govenor Rod Blagojevich is a real gift to psychology and organizational behavior. 

It is from these extreme cases of human behavior where one can learn the most.  To be “in the mainstream of behavior” makes one almost invisible.

But not Rod Blagojevhich.  On December 9,2008 Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested by FBI agents for what U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald called a “staggering” level of corruption involving pay-to-play politics in Illinois’ top office.

In a press conference Rob Blagojevich said:

I’m here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. I intend to stay on the job and I intend to fight this thing every step of the way…I have done nothing wrong.

Blagojevich vowed to “fight fight fight until I take my last breath.”

The Quandary

The interesting question is how two groups of people can interpret the same series of events from opposite perspectives and arrive at conclusions that are at opposite extremes.

On the one hand, Illinois lawmakers are on a course to impeach Blagojevich.  The senate has gone on record that they will not seat anyone who Blagojevich names to fill the senate seat left open by Obama.

On the other hand is Blagojevich who thinks he has done nothing wrong and will “fight fight fight”.  Blagojevich described himself as “in the limelight”.  Being in the limelight is generally understood as a positive attribution.  But nothing could be further from the case.  Blagojevich shows up for work as if nothing is wrong – as if he is in a state of denial.  He has said as much “I have done nothing wrong.”

The Dilemma of the Observers

The observers of this drama, you and me, are caught in the middle.  We all read the 76 page Criminal Complaint against Blagojevich and read the quotes from taped conversations.  If these recorded conversations exist then that is what all sides can agree on.  He said what he said. 

If we start with the same conversations (the same events) how do two groups of people (Blagojevich, and most other people) come to widely differing interpretations?

More…  interesting behavior

And then there are some odd entries in the whole drama.  This is Rolland Burris who Blagojevich  named to fill the Senate seat.  What is he (Burris) thinking?

Some commentators have expressed the opinion that Burris has made a bad (ethical) judgment in accepting this position.  Who would accept an appointment from a Governor for which a criminal complaint exists, an impeachment is on the way, and for a position which Senate Democrats will refuse to seat.  Answer: Roland Burris.

So what is Roland Burris thinking?

Psychologists weight in

Such compelling differences in interpretation is really a gift that has fallen into the hands of armchair and professional psychologists.

Is Blagojevich a sociopath? Is he disconnected from reality?  Is it inflated arrogance brought on by delusions of self-grandeur.  How can he be so blind to what other people think of him?

We found this article on the Internet

What was Blagojevich thinking?

By Joseph Ryan
Daily Herald Staff

When a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan suggested the governor was a “sociopath” this summer, the dig was chalked up to a bitter rivalry between the two Democratic powers.

Now, with sweeping federal charges that Gov. Rod Blagojevich was operating a “political corruption crime spree” despite knowing he was under investigation, many are wondering if there is something more to that accusation.

“Not having his phones checked, given what he was doing, absolutely blows my mind more than anything else,” said Paul Green, director of Roosevelt University’s School of Policy Studies.

“What was he thinking?” added Green, reprising an infamous line from campaign ads between Blagojevich and Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka.

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk said Wednesday it was clear from the governor’s actions that the Chicago Democrat suffers from a “disconnect with reality.”

The armchair study of Blagojevich’s mindset is now becoming the talk of some psychology classes.

Dr. Paul Larson, a professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, says he has been discussing it with students as a study in “self-delusion.”

“He certainly shows a tendency toward self-inflation and cockiness … that suggests just a real blindness to what everybody else sees as pretty obvious,” Larson said, stressing that he couldn’t provide a full diagnosis of the governor.

Larson says the governor’s actions reflect a person with an inflated arrogance brought on by delusions of self-grandeur, which cause him to be oblivious to feedback and the reality of his situation.

Take Blagojevich’s alleged actions after six years of federal investigations.

Even after knowing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was probing his administration, Blagojevich talked brazenly with multiple staffers and on the phone about numerous illegal activities, including strong-arming campaign contributions and selling a U.S. Senate seat, Fitzgerald said Tuesday.

“If he is a sociopath, he is not very good at it,” Larson said.

Instead, Larson says it seems to him the governor’s distorted sense of grandeur comes from an internal sense of “inferiority.”

Regardless, the same sense of self-importance that landed Blagojevich in front of a federal judge Tuesday may have kept him from stepping down from office Wednesday, he says.

“Everybody is just amazed at how completely out of touch and bold this guy has been,” Larson said. “What on Earth leads him to be so blind?”

What’s relevant for this web site ?

Our tie in with what you see on the national stage with Blagojevich and organizations is this – personal blindness of individual self image with how other people see these individuals.

From a CEO’s prespective

In the book Career Warfare: 10 Rules for Building a Successful Personal Brand on the Business Battlefield

CEO of  John Hancock Financial Services, David D’Alessandro writes

… they were suffering from a disease that frequently holds people back in their working lives:  What they say when they looked in the mirror in no way corresponded to external reality.  They thought they resembled Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.  We saw Nicolae and Elana Ceausescu of Romania – petty despots with no culture and a monstrous appetite for luxury.

Instead, you will become the professional equivalent of poor Darva Conger, moving from embarrassment to embarrassment, denying all the while that these embarrassments express anything significant about you.

Of course developing an accurate self-image is always a struggle…

But if you can’t begin to look at yourself with some detachment, you will never be able to alter your behavior so that it corresponds to the kind of person you would ideally like to be. 

Above all, be aware that your behavior defines you.  Since you are going to be judged not on your intentions and desires, but rather on your external actions, try not to develop tunnel vision. 

Consider things beyond your own self-interest, such as the well-being of the people you work with and the organizatioins you work for.


There is an old quote, “If you look, you will see a lot”. 

The key is to look.  And if you look into organizations you work for, or organizations that you belong to, you may just see individuals exhibiting this behavior exemplified by Blagojevich – self image not in line with reality – a sort of self-delusion.

If you can’t be embarrassed by things you do then what is this?  Is it a lack of ethics?  Lack of judgement? Self-delusion?  The emergence of a sociopathic personality? 

What if you can’t be embarrassed no matter how bizarre your behavior? What is it in a persons mind that triggers the event “I am doing something ‘wrong’ ‘” and why are some individuals missing this common trigger that the majority of citizens possess? 

How can a civilized culture exist if these “triggers” of “right” and “wrong” do not exist as a common level-set of behavior?  How can an organization become “great” if there are no standards of what is considered “normal” or “ethical” behavior?

We hope that as time goes on, and the Blagojevich story unfolds, we get to see some professional psychological opinion on what has gone wrong with these individuals.  

This will be insight from which every organization can benefit.


This is going to be one great story in the coming months…

At one end of the interpretation of events we have this..

And on the other side of the interpretation of the same events we have this…

How can anyone make sense of how two groups of people can see the same events so differently?


Written by frrl

January 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Commentary and Opinion

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. it’s crazy what Blagojevich has gotten away with already… he’s an international embarrassment

    coffee fiend

    January 7, 2009 at 7:48 am

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