David was the charismatic leader of a large not-for-profit organization which gave aid and care for the homeless. Over the past ten years, his organization, under his energetic leadership, grew substantially as donations increased, new shelters were formed, and thousands of people were assisted. On the surface, things seemed to above board and working well. But it wasn’t.
Discretionary funds kept disappearing and despite the increase in donations and the efficiency of management, the organizations’ numbers were in the red. David called a board meeting and openly admitted to having a personal spending problem and laughingly brushed off the organization’s issues as people following his lead.
When another board member during the meeting confronted David about another indiscretion of sexual harassment of a volunteer. David minimized it, teased the board member for being overly sensitive, and openly admitted his weakness for overspending and beautiful women. He then asked the board for their prayers saying that he was under attack for being such an effective leader. David said nothing inappropriate was happening and everyone was just overreacting.
Yet there was. The board member hired a private consulting firm to review the organizations’ statements and found hundreds of thousands of dollars unaccounted. Then the board member interviewed volunteers who left the organization without warning and discovered a dozen cases of sexual harassment by David. The problem was that David admitted to one percent of what was actually happening, so any further accusations would only add to the theory that he was ‘under attack’.
David was hiding in plain sight. By admitting to his weakness of overspending and admiring beautiful women, he removed the shock value of discovery. Instead of trying to look perfect, David openly admitted to his imperfections, calling himself humble and human. He even called out other board members who did not have any obvious indiscretions as “trying to hide something”. How was he so successful? Here are five of his techniques.
- He dressed casually. David did not look like the leader of a large organization. He would often wear casual non-descript clothing with little to no accessories or fancy touches. This gave him the appearance of fitting in with the volunteers. By physically not standing out, it was easier for him to hide sexual harassment. Many times, the victims were unaware that he was the leader, they thought that he was just one of the other workers. That is how the harassment cases went undetected.
- He followed the rules. David was known throughout the organization for being a rule follower and very organized. His daily rituals of routine were well known amongst the staff. He was quick to disciple employees or volunteers who overstepped their boundaries and not afraid of confrontation. By following the rules in nearly every instance, it made it less likely that David would be discovered for embezzlement and sexual harassment.
- He was inconspicuous. One of the unnerving traits of David’s personality was his ability to sneak up on people. Without realizing it, a group of conversing employees would suddenly become aware that David had joined the group. Sometime during the discussion, he had snuck up and joined without anyone noticing. This ability allowed him to become aware of moments when no one was paying attention and therefore making his criminal acts go unnoticed.
- He was quiet. When David needed to be charismatic and turn on the charm to increase donations, he would. But the rest of the time he was very quiet. He even talked quietly and walked quietly. He was very judicious about when he would be energetic in front of others using it only when needed to attract just the right kind of attention. The rest of the time, he was silent. This extreme difference allowed him to hide in plain sight.
- He was agreeable. Although David was not afraid to confront others when they stepped out of line, he was most agreeable. His employees found him easy to work with and very accommodating. He said ‘yes’ more than he said ‘no’ which made him an easy boss. However, David was being agreeable to go undetected, not because that was his normal personality. By being well-liked, any accusations against him looked like personal attacks and untrue mischaracterizations.
Even after the board member exposed David, fellow members and employees still believed that David was ‘under attack’. It took an outside investigation and prosecution before they finally saw David for who he was. Sadly, there are many other cases just like this in numerous environments, especially ones in which are intending to “help others”.