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When Tone from the Top is Corrupt: Identifying Causes (Part 1)

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When Tone from the Top is Corrupt: Identifying Causes (Part 1)

This is part one of a two-part blog segment on how to manage tone from the top when it is coming from corrupt leaders. Today’s blog will focus on causes of corruption at the very highest levels of leadership, while part two will focus on how to manage the impact of corrupt tone from the top.

When people talk about tone from the top, the general consensus is that the leader is the leader within a corporation and the employees are its directors, managers, associates, etc. But what if we widen our scope? What if we think of the government as our leader and corporations as the employees? What type of ethical example is our “leader” setting? The answer is the level of ethics and compliance (or rather, corruption) varies at the local, state and federal levels. According to a Dartmouth College study, “Political Corruption in America,” we can expect to see the most corruption at the state level, as they are less prone to scrutiny and have access to more funds than local governments. The federal government, like local governments, is said to have less corruption (although, I admit I’m slightly skeptical of this) as its actions are more closely watched by the national press as well as interest and watchdog groups.

How do we get the leaders within our corporations to be strong ethical leaders, when our own government is faltering? Honestly, there isn’t an easy solution. We know corruption is present in the government and probably always will be, so we can’t eradicate it completely, but we can manage the degree to which it exists, as well as our own expectations. To do that we need to understand the causes behind government corruption. Fortunately for us, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania have done some of the work already, finding in a series of recent experiments that cheaters and liars, more so than honest individuals, are attracted to government jobs.

The study was able to conclude that cheating on the experiments was “predictive of fraudulent behaviors by real government officials.” What’s even scarier about this is that when the participants were surveyed on corruption, there was no way to distinguish the responses of the liars from those of the honest individuals — currently this is how the government “screens” out corrupt individuals. So really, we know now that 1) cheaters and liars are attracted to government jobs, and 2) we currently have no way of determining which government job applicants are cheaters and which are not. Meaning: the future of our country potentially lies disproportionately in the hands of unscrupulous people. Perfect! That’s just wonderful news (please note sarcasm).

Stay tuned for part two to discover how best to mitigate any negative consequences that might trickle down from having a corrupt government.

About the Author

Jimmy Lin, VP, Product Management & Corporate Development. Jimmy leads corporate and product strategies for The Network’s Integrated GRC Solutions. He has over 14 years experience in and around software and technology, from implementing software to analyzing new markets and leading product strategies. Jimmy is a Certified GRC Professional (GRCP). Connect with Jimmy on LinkedIn
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