The Price of Doing What’s Right—Willing to Pay it? | Leadership Courage

Coming face-to-face with “wrong” tests the leader in you. Doing something about it tests your courage.                     

To get around both, people say: 

  • It’s not my job.
  • Someone must have authorized that.
  • It must be okay if my boss is doing it.
  • I just don’t know enough to step in.
  • I don’t want to get involved in something messy. 

When we know something is wrong and don’t intervene, we become culpable. So whatever happens in the near or long-term, we share the blame. 

The power of fear 

Lots of bad things go on at work: 

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Lying and records tampering
  • Misuse of technology
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Collusion and fraud 

We may witness things that are a big deal or seemingly minor, like the difference between a bold-face lie and a white one. Both are, of course, lies. 

We may sense that something isn’t right or see it clear as day. In both cases, we are faced with a choice—to speak/act or stay silent/do nothing. 

There are laws that protect whistle blowers which may be of small comfort. We’re often more concerned about what will happen to us if we “go to someone in authority.” Once we do that, our work life and/or our career likely changes forever. 

So we’re faced with what we stand for and who we really are—someone more interested in our own best interest or an advocate for doing what’s right. That’s a question to ask your reflection in the nearest mirror. 

Stand tall 

No matter where you are on the organization chart, you’re in a position to protect what’s right. Recently, Chris Matthews from MSNBC’s Hardball called attention to those “people with moral authority who perform in a lowly way” when speaking about the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. 

Matthews reminded viewers that there are people in authority who are more interested in protecting what’s good for them and the brand of their organization than doing what’s morally and ethically right for individuals, the community, and/or society. 

Jack McCallum, long time writer for Sports Illustrated and grad school friend of mine, recently wrote a column about an interview he’d done with alleged sexual predator, Jerry Sandusky from Penn State, where Jack confessed he’d been fooled about the guy. 

Jack shared these insights with a college class he was teaching that included discussion about “group mindset and the power of the brand:”

We do not know all that happened at Penn State, but we know this much: The Football Program, the engine that brings in $50 million profit and defines the school much more than its outstanding academic curriculum, is to be protected at all costs. Over the years — through national championships, expansion of Beaver Stadium, the flood of donor millions and canonization of Saint Joe — that mindset had calcified and become S.O.P. [standard operating procedure], as it does at so many football power palaces. 

At some time in the future, I told the members of my class, there’s a good chance they will be asked to choose between protecting the institution and doing the right thing. That choice will not be simple because there is strength in numbers, security in the collective and a selfish investment in group success. Doing the right thing is sometimes the hardest thing when it should be the easiest.

Chris Matthews makes the point that we each need to fight to protect right and undo wrong by bringing it into our roles, whatever they are and wherever we work.

Call to action

It’s time to ask yourself some “What would I do questions?” How far are you willing to go to protect one person, a group, your company, or society? It’s a question that leads to answers about your courage, leadership, and conviction.

I have written before how important it is to be vigilant at work. Always ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?” and “What is this person about?” Both questions will help you see what others don’t, position you to act with confidence, and recognize what’s just and what isn’t.

Photo from bean45cc via Flickr

Any Lines You Won’t Cross? | Integrity Matters

Business is about survival. If you don’t make a profit, it’s curtains. Every day, we make decisions that can make or break our companies, often testing our ethics and integrity. It‘s a reality I had to face.

You don’t really know how a business works until you’re in it. 

For 17 years, I was a commercial horse breeder. I knew absolutely nothing about breeding, foaling, racing, or selling when I started. I learned a little each day.  

The horse business is like no other and staying solvent is a struggle for most players, like me. 

Anyone can buy a horse to get started. That’s not the problem. It’s knowing what to do next. After all, a horse is a fabulous animal that needs a career that matches his/her abilities. (Sound familiar?) It’s our task to prepare them for a good job at a good place. That’s the challenge. 

You don’t have to be rich to be in business, but you’d better be savvy. 

I owned a well-bred yearling colt that I’d worked with for a year until he was ready to move on to his next training stage. He was a handsome, strapping chestnut horse with lots of promise. 

I took him to a swanky thoroughbred race horse auction where there were lots of quality buyers who could help him develop his potential. 

My crew and I were eager to show him to prospective buyers who would come by for a preview. We’d take him out of the stall, walk and jog him back and forth, showcasing his beautiful movement and conformation. We did this repeatedly until it was his time in the auction ring. 

I was so confident walking him in the prep ring. Here I was with a great looking colt showing tons of pedigree. This was going to be our moment.

The valet takes my horse onto the auction floor. The bidding starts. I know it’s someone from my crew. It goes in fits and starts. My heart is pounding. In less than five minutes, the hammer comes down. The final bid was less than what I’d paid for him over a year ago and I know that my crew, by instruction, had bought him back.

 I was dumbfounded. It was a long and quiet ride home. 

If you want to know the hard realities of a business, talk to the insiders. But you may choose not to listen. 

My phone rang the next day. The caller had advice to share.

 He told me that I hadn’t handled things right when I was showing my colt to prospects. This is what he explained: 

“When a buyer’s agent comes by and asks how much you expect to get for your horse, give him/her a price. Explain that you are prepared to split the difference between your price and final bid price if s/he is the successful bidder.” 

See how this works? The person with the money to buy has engaged his trainer or agent to pick the right horse for him. Since each horse there has high potential to be successful, it’s in the agent’s best interest to buy the one that is the best “deal” for himself. Of course, the buyer doesn’t know this. (I still don’t believe this is a widespread practice, but who really knows.) 

I thanked the caller for the information and announced to my crew that I would not play that game. End of story. 

Integrity is the underpinning of your brand. Once you compromise it, it’ll haunt you forever. 

The life blood of every business is its relationships and reputation. So here’s what we all need to do:

  • Build and sustain a brand based on integrity
  • Deepen our relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, and community
  • Always deliver on our word
  • Surround ourselves with quality people who endorse us
  • Make sure all our dealings are fair

 That horse sale taught me a priceless lesson: To continue doing what I loved meant finding and building relationships with quality horse people who shared my values, and there were many. If anything helped me get business fit, the horses did.

Have you every had your integrity tested? Ever watched someone compromise theirs? What stuck with you?