October 5, 2005
Loss of integrity begins with just a
The great Chinese philosopher Confucius is quoted as
saying, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with
but a single step." What little things numb the
consciences of young executives and lead them down to
such colossal failures of integrity?
Stealing can begin with simply taking more than the
agreed-upon time for lunch. Lying can be as easy as not
fully alerting a potential customer to a product's weaknesses.
Cheating may occur on a golf course or on the tennis
court. Chatting with friends instead of attending to
assigned duties is yet another violation of trust, a
form of thievery. Tardiness at meetings, likewise, is
a form of "stealing" time from others.
From this short list of "understandable and expected" so-called
modern business behaviors, there is in some circles an
easy transition to more serious violations of social
and economic responsibility. Legitimate business lunches
evolve into expensive galas for friends and family. These
compromising executives feel the company really owes
them - and why not share their good life with people
they like? Lying to customers may roll over into asking
for kickbacks from suppliers. Pretty soon, the busy and
already compromised corporate executive will be less
likely to see any harm in asking for loans from the company
for personal use.
The power lunches, the extravagant parties, the luxury
yachts, the elegant offices - all can become entitlements,
unrelated to the productivity or the effectiveness of
those engaged in leveraging the position for lifestyle
perks and organizational impact. If many lower-level
folks lose their jobs during tough times, that's just
Are business executives really this irresponsible?
A few are. Read the headlines and then turn to the pages
that list thousands of companies that are never discussed,
never associated with fraud, greed or misappropriation
of funds. Most leaders go to work to do a good job, each
and every day. They are good stewards for their respective
Addictions such as lying, cheating and stealing are
habit-forming. Individuals' integrity can be measured
in just how easily (and cheaply) they will compromise
in order to win. When someone will cheat for a dollar
or 10, how vicious might he or she become when the stakes
reach into the thousands and millions? Along time ago,
a wise teacher suggested that people who are good stewards
over a small sum can be expected to wisely steward much
larger amounts, with respect for the concerns of all
stakeholders and never for self-serving gain.
Prudent stewards, including responsible executives, avoid
the slippery slope because they know integrity matters.
Learning early the pitfalls of greed can pay great dividends
in lives well spent, organizations well served and societies