The topic of ethics and professional conduct is increasingly on the minds and in the conversations of people today. It pervades many situations and underlies other topics. Whether it is a news story about a politician or a business, or a discussion about whether there is a real issue or a perceived conflict of interest, the result is usually the same for a personal or business reputation: not good.
Not Good Enough
The days of “I’m sorry Senator or your Honor, I simply don’t recall” and the good ol’ “I was unaware” rarely will be bought by the public any longer when an issue arises where the benefit of the doubt is being asked for by someone in a position of public trust or by a well-compensated, well-connected, seasoned 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 than anything else. When it comes to politics, the public automatically smell something rotten and 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, e-mails, and Recordings
Whether it is a governor in the Midwest or the Southeast peddling influence, and whether it is business as usual or not, the public is now a new generation uncontrolled by the old standard revelations and disclosures only being revealed by “deep throat” (the source for the Watergate investigation) or major national papers. In this new Internet information age, 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 players. A cell phone can snap a moment of indiscretion and send it winging across the Internet and into the stratosphere of blogospheric coverage.
Breaking News and Breaking Lives
“To err is human; to forgive, divine” as the saying goes. However, we all set standards of morality and conduct not only for ourselves, but also our leaders. The higher the standards we strive for, the more challenging they are to achieve and the more likely we are to fall short. This does not mean that we need lower our standards, but it does mean that when we fall short we do have to step and acknowledge what has happened. Accountability and responsibility are the counterpoints to a world in which it often seems no one is in control nor can they be relied upon. 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, and 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 most recent culprits in the news have been caught not only with their hands in the cookie jar but also 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.
One Among Many
A scandal here, a scandal there; sell a seat or try in the senate; fly on private jets and don’t report it; travel to the Caribbean using public funds and don’t disclose it; get donations and don’t list them; use donations for “special purposes”; keep a “rainy day fund” in foil in the freezer. The list of topics that could easily be “misconstrued” can go on and on. They do run together in our hearts and minds. What is the real ethical issue and what is one that is merely a perceived to be an issue from the limited perspective we have? When and how 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. A promise was a promise. A friend was a friend. No such thing as accepting “frenemies” and sliding codes of conduct and so-called “situational” ethics and the like. The philosophy was to keep your friends close and your enemies closer because you wanted to keep an eye on them and not because you might decide to become best buds next week.
I’m a black and white person and do my best to do what is right. Do I always get it right? Sadly, no. But I keep trying and continue to set high standards. 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 not work that way for me. I’m old school and I can’t—okay, won’t—easily let that go. I set the standard to give clients the truth; if I’m not the right person for the job, I tell the client. If I make a mistake, I correct it and take responsibility for it. On the flipside if I’m “done wrong,” I have a very long memory. An honest mistake isn’t an issue if you own it and make it right, but if you engage in unethical behavior, don’t expect to do business with me, my clients or my colleagues. There’s no chance my rules on that could be misconstrued.
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