When the scandal broke about the head of the International Monetary Fund, for many of us the first reaction was simply, “Here’s another example of the wealthy and powerful caught doing something wrong.” Of course, in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the accusations are of criminal as well as ethical concerns. DSK stepped down as head of the IMF purportedly to protect the reputation of the IMF, an extremely influential organization which directly and indirectly controls global economic stability.
It’s been reported that the IMF maintains two sets of ethics guidelines – one for its 2,400 operational staff members and another for the 24-member directorship. A 2008 study of the organization’s ethics policies determined that the code of conduct intended for the rank-and-file is solid as a rock, but the code by which the executive directors should conduct business is far from sufficient and is self-policing according to rules set by those same directors.
It would appear that the IMF directors operate under what could be described as the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. The IMF is a very diverse organization with cross-cultural differences, but in that it is not unique. There are many, many commercial enterprises that operate on the same international playing field and are similarly called upon to maintain a strong ethical culture. While it’s truly nothing new, it seems that we have been hearing the phrase, “tone from the top” quite a bit here lately. To sustain a successful, ethical enterprise, leaders realize that they must “walk the talk” and operate under the same guidelines that they mandate down to their staff employees. Otherwise, they risk at best being called two-faced and, at worst, totalitarian. By leveraging their influence, communicating ethical values and implementing ethics training throughout their organizations, leaders can make a positive impact toward reducing fraud and corruption.
The DSK scandal puts the IMF’s duality of policy directly in the spotlight, but the lesson to be learned is this: tone from the top is important, it does matter, and it does make a difference.