February 22, 2010

Principle-Based Leadership: Setting the Tone

As a member of numerous web 2.0 forums, I oftentimes listen to esoteric rants and the splitting of hairs in the Governance, Risk and Compliance world. Every so often, however, I get the opportunity to read something that is refreshingly lucid.

All of us in the compliance world struggle with moving the needle and improving the “ethical quotient” of our organizations. For the last few years, I have come to believe it isn’t the “transformation” of people that is important, it is the tone from the top and the people you hire. Setting the tone and expectation of principled integrity for your organization and interjecting the right DNA into an organization can have a greater impact than any training program. When people are faced with an ethical dilemma they often turn to the example set by leadership or their co-workers. Having well-grounded individuals in your organization that embrace the organization’s goals and know the difference between right and wrong will prove invaluable.

Recent comments by Daniel Roberts of RAAS consulting made me take notice. Dan discussed the obituary of one of the translators at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal and recounted this person's recollection of the interrogation of Rudolf Höss, the former head of Auschwitz. The translator asked Höss if he had ever sought to enrich himself off the Jews he was killing. Apparently Höss replied, "What kind of man do you think I am?"

This is the verbatim quote from Dan that sparked this post: “Ethics are defined by what we believe to be right and wrong. Höss was not living in an ethical vacuum, just in a place/time in which the ethics were so distorted from our understanding of the word as to earn him a place in history as one of the most loathsome humans ever. Yet he considered himself ethical.

Start by looking at the ethical norms or leadership and you will discover the ethical norms of the organization. An ethics program by itself is noise. It is the actual behaviors of leadership that matter. If they cover up inappropriate or even criminal behavior (seen it done), or simply refuse to truly investigate it (seen it done), punish those reporting the potential abuse (seen that done too), then all the ethics handbooks and programs are meaningless.”

Thanks Dan for reminding us that inspiring principled based performance and a sense of “presence,” not the issuance of rules and requirements, is how we will change our organizations.


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About Me

David Childers
of EthicsPoint

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Favorite Quotes:

Ronald Reagan
There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.

John Quincy Adams
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.

Ray Kroc
The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.

John Maxwell
The first step to leadership is servanthood.