If you are a frequent reader of my articles and columns, the topic of ethics and professional conduct is a theme that that runs throughout many of my pieces. Whether there is a real issue or a perceived conflict, the result is usually the same for your reputation and your business. The “I don’t recall” and “I was unaware” rarely will be accepted by the public when an issue arises, particularly when the benefit of the doubt is being asked for by someone in a position of public trust or by a well-compensated executive.
Call us skeptics or victims of the “once bitten, twice shy” syndrome but the public has come to expect less than full disclosure from its leaders, and that who you know goes further in getting positions and compensation sets than other factors. When it comes to politics, the public automatically smells something rotten. Unfortunately even when some people may not have actually or technically achieved a level of “misconduct,” if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, people think it is a duck.
Memos, Emails and Recordings
Whether it is a governor in the Midwest or the southeast peddling influence—or attempting to—and whether it is business as usual or not, the public is now a new generation not controlled by the same rules and restrictions. Revelations and disclosures of misdeeds no longer come from “Deep Throat” or major national newspapers. Bloggers, disgruntled employees, household staff, nannies and a cast of seemingly hundreds are lined up ready to pounce and disclose and disseminate the illicit—and explicit—antics and episodes of politicians, influence peddlers, corporate leaders and other “power players.” A cell phone can snap a moment of indiscretion and send it winging across the Internet and into the stratosphere of traditional and blogospheric coverage.
Breaking News and Breaking Lives
“To err is human, and to forgive divine” the saying goes. We all set standards for ourselves and our leaders, and the higher the standards we strive, for the more challenging it is to achieve—and the more likely we are to fall short. This does not mean that we lower our standards, but it does mean that when we fall short we must step and acknowledge what has happened. Accountability and responsibility are the counterpoints to a world where it often seems no one is in control nor can be relied upon. When honest mistakes are made and they will be made, they can be easily misconstrued. When ethical misconduct occurs, the line must be drawn, and those stepping across the line held to account. Public servants, non-profit executives, corporate leaders, politicians and private individuals all have a role to play allowing someone to benefit personally or financially, directly or indirectly is inappropriate and incentivizes the behavior.
Caught in the Cookie Jar and Keeping the Cookies
Many of the culprits have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar and a trail of crumbs as evidence of the crime. Yet these individuals not only have a full stomach, but keep the crumbs AND the cookie jar! Restitution should be required of convicted “white” collar criminals and disincentives should be created to discourage others from engaging in these behaviors.
Hobbs Act Revisited
A little talked about piece of legislation is the Hobbs Act, which essentially states that a person in the employee of the government cannot benefit personally from his/her position in the government. How can, for instance, a governor go from a net worth of several hundred thousand to several million during the course of his gubernatorial term without having benefited from his “position”? This situation also applies to senators, representatives, legislators and others in the political spectrum.
One Amongst Many
A scandal here, a scandal there: Sell a seat—or try to—in the Senate. Fly on private jets and don’t report it … travel to the Caribbean or own property there and don’t disclose it … receive donations and don’t list them … use donations for “special purposes”… keep a “rainy day fund” in foil in the freezer… The list can go on and on. They run together in our hearts and minds. What is the real ethical issue and what is one that is merely a perceived issue from the limited perspective we have? When and can we tell? Does it matter in the end? We are being inundated by disappointing and shocking behavior from “leaders” who aren’t leading and politicians who are not serving.
I miss the days when a handshake meant something; when a promise was a promise, and a friend was a friend.
I miss days when there were no such things as “frenemies” and sliding codes of conduct or “situational” ethics. I’m a black and white person and do my best to do what is right. Do I always get it right? No. No way. But I keep trying and continue to set high standards for myself. It would be much easier to say “Oh well this is “good enough” or “It doesn’t matter if I don’t keep my word.” But it does to me. I’m old school and I can’t easily let that go. How about you?