No matter your political stripe, the IRS spectacle before us is compelling. How do employees that largely possess common sense, are educated, and respectable law abiding citizens do such dumb things. The answer lies in leadership, and the culture advanced by example.

Geneticists and Scientists postulate we share 96% of our DNA with Apes. Self-interest lies at the heart of our behavior. Individuals behave in organizations according to what is in their best interest. That which keeps them fed, and a member in good standing of the group is successful behavior. Acting outside the norm causes penalties (no upward path, no raises, and lack of acceptance) or worse yet, excommunication (termination) from the group.

Leaders lead by example. Great Executives know that what they say, matters. They also recognize that what they do can matter more. Down the organization people respond to cues, verbal, non-verbal, and cultural, that guide their behavior. They behave in ways that are rewarded, and conversely avoid behaviors that place them in the penalty box. We humans do not like pain.

We are hard wired to seek rewards, and avoid jeopardy. We are social creatures seeking inclusion and support. We are accustomed to ambiguity, and skilled at discerning mixed signals. When we’re sure what our leaders want, we do it.  Our very survival depends on it.

This reminds me of an old saying that is really a great kernel of wisdom: “A man with split mind rings like a cracked bell.” Psychologists call it Cognitive Dissonance. The messages we send are clearly understood by those whose self-interest is met by satisfying our demands.

The agent discharges the wishes of the principal, and the responsibility for the outcomes always resides with he who leads.

It is an immutable law of nature, and leadership.