Brazil is one of the most amazing countries on the planet. We love its soccer, its coffee, its carnival festival, its rain forest, its Christ Redeemer Statue, its beaches, the Amazon River, and its waterfalls. It’s given us Pele and Ronaldo, bossa nova music and the samba, Brazil nuts and Rio (the movie and the city). So it’s been saddening, at times sickening, to watch the country implode from years of corruption in Brazil’s leadership.
President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment amid allegations that she broke budget laws to help support her re-election efforts in 2014. But her troubles are just part of widespread issues that are so bad the country’s largest newspaper began devoting an entire section for what it titled “Brazil in Crisis.”
You can read this BBC article for some of the context and background on scandals that have led to convictions of dozens of political and business leaders.
But as always, we can look at the crisis from afar and easily spot lessons that should shape our personal leadership. When I look at Brazil, I see the fruits of leading without transparency. And without transparency in leadership, here are some of the fruits I see:
A crisis engulfs your culture slowly over time
The Workers Party has maintained control of the national government for 13 years, which tells you it has had some sustained support. People wanted to believe in it. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in fact, was one of the country’s most popular leaders. Now, millions of Brazilians have called for his arrest because of his role in various scandals. What’s clear in hindsight is that years of self-focused leadership created a culture of fraud that often was hard to see as it took place but that in recent years has turned the government into an overgrown jungle of corruption.
A crisis causes long-ranging, widespread damage
The scandals have devastated the Brazilian economy, which is in its worst recession in 30 years. Inflation at the end of 2015 had soared to 10.7 percent. Think of all the ramifications from that fact alone – higher unemployment, higher prices on goods and services, increases in crime, a greater need to spend public money on social services for the poor … But bad leadership also has damaged Brazil’s reputation in the eyes of the world, which makes corporations and governments reluctant to do business with the country and tourists cautious about visiting. That, of course, spells even more trouble for the economy.
A crisis takes longer to reverse
Without transparency, there is no trust. Without trust, there is no sustained recovery from a crisis. There might be some temporary improvements, but it’s all short-lived. The roots of corruption have to be pulled up and replaced with seeds that bloom into consistent, honorable leadership. That takes time. When I stepped in as CEO of an international company on the brink of bankruptcy, we made changes. But we didn’t demand instant respect. We went to our employees and investors with a message: Don’t trust us; watch us. We knew we had to prove it. And so will those who lead Brazil forward.
None of us think our teams or organizations will spiral out of control the way things have in Brazil. But it’s worth asking: Are you leading in ways that will prevent that from happening or enable it?