Today, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy, we’re reminded of his words and his legacy. Originally posted in May 2011 , this blog reminds of what we believe our leaders should be, what they should possess, and the influence they have over us – as people, as employees and and as citizens. After a moment of silence at 1:28 pm today, a monument was unveiled in Dealey Plaza in Dallas to commemorate JFK’s vision and his passing. As a business leader or anyone tasked with the compliance responsibilities of your organization, read these words inscribed on this memorial as a perpetual call to action for leadership:
We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.”
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Do you recognize the leader who spoke those words? Or, to be completely accurate, who would have spoken those words, had he not been assassinated on November 22, 1963? Those words appear in a speech prepared by John F. Kennedy to have been delivered in Dallas on that fateful day.
Kennedy was known for his pragmatism and his sense of global implications. Although his term as president was short, he is revered for his manner and strength of character. Kennedy was not, of course, above all manner of scrutiny, and his name is to be found in a study of infamous scandals (which would, no doubt, pale in comparison to some of today’s haughty celebrity misadventures and tales of uber-wealthy exploits).
So what’s this to do with ethics and compliance? When I first saw this quote pop up as my “daily motivational,” two important matters quickly came to mind. One is the notion of “tone from the top.” Enterprises of all shapes and sizes are driven by their leadership to foster and maintain a certain culture. And the things that leaders do are almost more important than the things that leaders say. My next thought was about the importance of communication, awareness and training, from that well-toned top all the way down to the most junior, entry-level employee.
If you have leaders, you must have followers. If followers know and understand what behavior is expected of them – in the form of meaningful policies and codes of conduct – their role will be more well defined, their jobs easier and more productive, and their lives more enriched by the experience. And, leaders must also be willing to learn. It’s a pragmatic approach that worked for Kennedy, and it can work just as well for your ethics initiatives.