This is part two of a two-part blog segment on how to manage tone from the top when it is coming from corrupt leaders. In part one I identified causes for corruption at the highest levels of leadership. Today’s blog will focus on how to manage the impact of corrupt tone from the top.
In “When Tone from the Top is Corrupt: Identifying Causes (Part 1),” we identified state governments as having the most corruption out of the three forms of government (local, state and federal). We then were able to derive causes for the corruption – at the state level there is less scrutiny than at the local and federal levels; there are also more funds at the state level than at the local level. Another cause is that there is a disproportionate amount of corrupt people drawn to and applying for government jobs. This finding was confirmed by a recent study by Harvard and Pennsylvania University. Research done by the two institutions found a positive correlation between students with a propensity for cheating and lying and a desire to have a government job.
Now that we know one of the major contributing factors to government corruption, let’s work to manage the scope. We know that individuals who lie and cheat are attracted to government jobs, so let’s work to narrow the cheating and lying applicant pool. Only recently have higher learning institutions begun incorporating ethics into the curriculum, and it’s great that they have, but we need to start at the source. When you are trying to learn a new language, the older you get, the harder and harder it gets. Conversely, if you throw an English speaking preschooler into a Spanish class, in no time you will have a little person running around saying “me gusta, te amo, donde es el bano” etc. Learning ethics should be approached the same way. While we can hope that parents instill their children with a strong moral code, we can’t always expect it, so ethics should be taught in schools.
However, because implementing ethics and compliance into the U.S. school system is a big question mark, it’s really important that we manage our own expectations of the tone from the top, or lack thereof, coming from the government. We can learn from BHP Billiton CEO Paul Anderson, who has been described as “the real thing when it comes to global business leadership.” Paul joined BHP when the company was really struggling (one of their titanium plants was losing 10 million dollars a month) and turned it around, but not without some speed bumps, including safety. When Paul came on board as CEO he made several smart decisions that helped to increase company profits, but injuries also increased. When Paul questioned his Head of Safety about it, he was confronted with the truth — injuries were up, because his actions did not condone safety. Paul rode his Harley without a helmet, drove his car above the speed limit in the BHP garage, failed to wear safety goggles when needed, and asked about safety last (behind cost, reliability and quality of output) on plant visits.
When Paul recognized what he was doing was sending the wrong message, he completely changed his ways. He wore a helmet, drove slower, followed safety rules and kick started a safety workshop — within a year, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate was down 30%. What I’m getting at here is, we as leaders need to be like Paul and recognize that sometimes we need to set a good example even if there are ethical blips in our local, state or federal governments.
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