Courage Makes Up a Leader by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Post - November 9, 1997
Courage. Dan Rather chose that word to conclude his newscasts several years ago...until he thought better of it. The nation balked, not at the word, but at the delivery--which didn't ring true. For courage is not a word to be spoken with a smile for blithe inspiration. It is a rare quality, extremely difficult to earn, requiring uncommon strength of character. Many aspire, few achieve.
Courage is more than fortitude. The latter is "hanging in there" when the going gets tough. When life doesn't go our way, we draw on fortitude to keep going. Courage, however, is the assertive acting out of a belief or principle. It is more than staying the course. It is a bold rudder command to radically change the course of events.
As business leaders in an oftentimes unjust world, we must not pay simple lip service to courage, but seek to embody it in our everyday challenges. Frequently a formidable task, with serious risks, it is the risking which gives courage its heroic quality.
Courage is acting with fear, not without it. It's doing the right thing when your stomach is in knots, when adrenaline is forcing you to act boldly or get the hell out of there. It is frequently a selfless act, sacrificing the best interest and safety of oneself for a greater good, sometimes paying a hefty price in the process. Yet, the courageous win far more often than they lose. While it takes "guts," in essence, courage is really LOVE. Love of justice, love of principle, love of people... above ourselves. It's what you'd do if you knew your kids were watching. People rightly look to their leaders to make correct decisions and actuate them. That's what leadership entails. A leader inherently says, "I have enough courage (love) to lead the way." Leadership calls for not only successful accomplishments, but doing so with the best welfare of all constantly in mind. It requires courage on behalf of others, even in the day-to-day battles against bureaucracy, injury and injustice. For courage is a continuum. It runs from the bravest feats of physical daring to the risking of one's career on a point of principle. Admiral Arleigh Burke said, "A man who doesn't have the courage to stand up for what he believes to be right in his own friendly councils, will not stand up on the battlefield for what he deems to be right...a man will not fight for principles unless he fights for principles in all arenas, friendly as well as unfriendly."
Courage can be lonely for it often calls for acting contrary to a larger, often more powerful, force. Will any of us ever forget the sight of that lone Chinese civilian in early June, 1989 who stood, unarmed, in front of a column of government tanks, blocking their advance? The physical and moral courage of one individual could not be illustrated more graphically. The image fills us with both fear for his safety and pride in his action. He is the pictorial personification of courage and we are awed.
Courageous business leaders fight for justice, the truth and the betterment of all. They intimately love, and through that love, uphold those values. They "stand for something," even if it means standing alone. Inaction, or the failure to take a stand, possibly to preserve one's career, is not characteristic of a true leader; and in the end, those people fail. True leadership requires the courage to follow through on what you stand for each and every day. For a life without standing for something is not a life, it's an existence.
So we must ask ourselves at day's end, if push came to shove, did we push back for rightness, for what was just, even at our own expense? We expect that of our leaders: a job courageously done, standing up, fighting the tough fight when it presents itself. We must expect no less of ourselves.
While an honest (wo)man is the noblest work of God, the courageous live forever. Reflect on the need for courage in our leaders and in ourselves. The kids are watching.
Loyalty: Where do you draw the line? by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - April 3-9, 1998
The subject first came to mind watching Nixon's staffers grapple with what to do. Years later, I declined a client's request to take a gig for which I knew I wasn't the right man. "What, isn't there any loyalty in this town?" she replied. I've thought often about what I said back to her ever since....
What is loyalty, anyway? What does it require? What are its limits? Where is the line between loyalty and disloyalty; what causes or justifies one to cross it? What level of loyalty does one owe the company or boss, particularly when asked to behave unethically?
"All the president's (wo)men" face these questions now in the Washington soap, "Days of Our Lies." Cigarette executives will learn the price of company loyalty if their butts are hauled into criminal court. The world's biggest health care firm fights widespread Medicare fraud charges. How "loyal" will its employees be before a grand jury? Such sagas can teach much.
From childhood, we are taught to venerate loyalty and not "snitch" on anybody. For to be loyal is somehow to be noble. But it's not that simple. Unless blind, loyalty is inherently a mutual responsibility agreement sealed with trust. Parties are loyal to each other in return for some benefit--happiness, love, hard work, security, business advantage. As a quid pro quo, there are times loyalty fades to nothingness. No love from your family, no loyalty. No caring from your company, no loyalty. The company without loyalty to its customers receives none in return. As the American biographer, James Parton, wrote, "Fidelity is seven-tenths of business success."
Loyalty is relative in terms of point-of-view and eventualities. It is a function of the situation and time. A traitor is only so to her compatriots. Her collaborators regard her heroic. The outcome of events often decides whether one is judged loyal or scorned as treacherous. Benedict Arnold would have quite the opposite historical reputation had the American Revolution failed.
The concept of loyalty is further compounded by the wide differences in degree of commitment: how tenacious the loyal when called to defend the object of loyalty. This requirement of vindication points up loyalty's most ethereal side when we see it do battle with conscience and personal gain. Would you lie to keep your boss out of jail? A "small" lie to get your boss's job? Would you lie to keep your child out of jail?
"Fidelity is the sister of justice," said the Roman poet, Horace. While closely related, the latter is properly blind. Loyalty, however, ought be constantly vigilant to incursions of injustice and unethical behavior. It is the ethics of our choices, and the ends we go to uphold them, that imparts loyalty its virtue.
We are loyal to many things at once--family, friends, our boss, our ethics. We must continually weigh one against the others. They weigh differently. Despite their chronic disparagement, the best lawyers, for example, simultaneously balance loyalty to the law, their client, their firm and their own ethics. They must constantly monitor their loyalties and question their validity. We all should do likewise. Loyalty is a virtue when placed wisely and defended courageously. One may be fairly judged by his loyalties, for they will reveal his principles.
Actors often use "the magic If..." to envision their character in an imagined situation. They thus portray their roles with more integrity. Astute businesses do contingency planning to "what if?" what to do in a crisis; so do astute people. Perhaps some premeditation about what you would do if caught between a rock and a hard place might help your decision-making, should you ever find yourself in a "loyalty bind."
It matters less which "Willy" we believe in the current Beltway morality play. It matters more the lessons we draw from it. We know what happened to Nixon's loyalists with their tragic tenet, "My President, right or wrong." We'll see what happens to Clinton's.
Oh, I forever lost that client I turned down. My response to her? "Loyalty doesn't require the loyal to go against what they believe is right." Perhaps not the best retort, but it's what came to me at the time. What would you have said? Denver Post, July 21, 1998: Stressing loyalty. And an upsurge of stress of all kinds is sapping workers' loyalty to their employers, a new national survey found. "The level of stress among the workforce is skyrocketing, said David Stum, president of Aon Consulting's Loyalty Institute, of Ann Arbor, Mich. What's more, the evidence points to a significant correlation between job stress and loyalty decline. Workers who suffer stress are "significantly less committed" than other employees to their companies, Stum said.
The Joy of Sexual Harassment by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - May 1-8, 1998
Let's see... first pour in a liter of libido, get that to simmer. Then add a pound of power differential, some hubris, victim vulnerability, and a spoonful of the egomaniacal idea your prey actually wants you to behave that way. Many add minced threats, some private groping, a pinch of punishment and a dash of "Duh!" No matter the recipe for sexcess (with apologies to the joys of sex and cooking), you won’t need Julia Child to know you've whipped up some mighty fine Sexual Harassment Hash (also known as "Shh!").
It's the hot (no pun intended) topic of the '90s. Sexual harassment lawsuits under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act jumped from 6,127 in 1990 (before Clarence and Anita) to 15,342 in 1996. Employment Practices Liability Insurance has become a more popular and prudent buy. And of course there's that morality play in Washington.
It's also a vexing issue. Men, women and the courts are all confused about what constitutes sexual harassment. It's subjectivity approaches Justice Potter Stewart's difficulty defining pornography. Yet he wrote, "But I know it when I see it." The Supreme Court now must not only know it when they see it, but unambiguously define sexual harassment for the rest of us.
Heretofore, the courts have said the harassment must be explicitly sexual in nature. However, Vicki Schultz, in April's Yale Law Journal, believes confining sexual harassment to sexuality underincludes what is actually gender-based harassment, the subordination of one gender because of power. A re-definition of the law is in order.
Nevertheless, Title VII jurisprudence presently categorizes sexual harassment as either quid pro quo or "hostile environment." The former conditions employment benefits on a subordinate's granting sexual favors. Do it just once--you're guilty. Hostile environment entails supervisors or coworkers engaging in "sufficiently severe or pervasive [behavior] to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment." Much trickier.
Clearly, the psychopathological perpetrators of sexual harassment try to feel more powerful by robbing it from victims. If targeted by a gender bully, it's crucial to react clearly, firmly and appropriately. A witnessed verbal or firmly-worded written request to cease the unwanted behavior is not only recommended, it's legally required. Document any subsequent incidents or repercussions. Keep photocopies--at home.
Sadly, the rest of us now walk on eggshells. Not fun. How does one express a simple compliment, safely? Carefully, if at all. You must monitor the person's reaction--ask if such comments are okay. Be careful about touching. If there's "lust in your heart," you're on thin ice. Criminally, harassers rob us all of our freedom and vitality.
It's a shame this important issue is now so politicized. For it's not about partisan politics, it's about rightful respect. Yet recent court rulings focus on "damages." In the classroom or boardroom, a bully's a bully: one who hurts, frightens or tyrannizes over those weaker. Does it matter if one kid shoves another but doesn't cause damage? No--the physical bully deserves censure for his disrespect. Does it matter an employer doesn't "damage" your wife by groping her? No--the gender bully deserves censure for his disrespect.
Bullies of whatever age or stripe, by definition, create hostile environments. Friendship, group affiliation or economic advantage does not mitigate bullying behavior. Rationales of "It's the economy, stupid!" or "Who cares? Our stock's soaring" are ethically irrelevant. Those who witness and tolerate unethical behavior for personal gain are equally complicit.
This term, the Supreme Court will endeavor to resolve the mess. Gloria Steinem excuses a sexual lunge so long as the lunger "took 'no' for an answer." Joy of Sexual Harassment devotees will love that license. Pinch a butt here, grab a breast there--once, without penalty--as long as any subsequent "no" is taken for an answer. Hopefully the high court will not legalize a one-free-grope rule. Bullies anywhere cannot be tolerated. They make life less fun for all of us. Smart business people address the issue not pro forma, nor with a wink and a nod, but in real terms. It's both the ethical and pragmatic thing to do. It's also smart business to recognize simmering libido and power differential are the first ingredients of Shh!
For more information, see www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-sex.html, or call the National Association of Working Women at 800.522.0925. *** Since the above article was written, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in their Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth 7-2 (Thomas and Scalia) decision that companies may be held liable for any sexual harassment by their supervisors "while acting within the scope of their employment" unless the company took "reasonable care to prevent and correct any sexually harassing behavior." NOTE: Ellerth admitted not discussing the problem with Burlington's human resources department and did not file a formal complaint while she worked there. For details on this case: http://www.courttv.com/archive/trials/ellerth/. For the complete opinion: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/97-569.ZS.html. For the complete opinion in the related Faragher v. City of Boca Raton: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/97-282.ZS.html.
Primary Colors: The Ethics of Ethnicity by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - June 12-18, 1998
.Every day around the world a bunch of international crazies, who call themselves the Hash House Harriers, run through jungles, deserts, fields and streams pursuing a goal. Chased by water buffalo, irate villagers and scorpions, they return covered in leeches, fleas, sand and slop. These nuts hail from different countries, speak various languages and sport a palette of skin colors. They chase two "rabbits" who've headed out in front dropping confetti as trail markers. The apparent goal is to track down the rabbits. But what are these runners really after?
Paint has its primary colors, so does light. Mixing primary colors allows one to achieve any shade desired. The possibilities are endless. This nation's primary colors are black, brown, red, yellow and white. Some regard classifying people by skin color as stereotyping. But it is only so when our fixed notion of a group allows for no individuality within that group.
There are human differences which we classify, just as we classify animals, architecture and flowers. A rose by any other name is still a rose. It is not the objective naming of a classification that injures, it's the inaccurate attribution of undesirable traits to all members of a group that does the damage. You can't tell a book by its cover.
Last month we observed Memorial Day, honoring those who died for this country...of diverse ethnicity. Last week we remembered the ethnic murder 30 years ago of Robert Kennedy.
Next month we celebrate our Declaration of Independence, which states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Talk about your ethical mandate!
But forget ethics for the moment, just think pragmatically. $176 million later, Texaco understands the need for treating all people fairly, regardless of their culture. After discrimination difficulties and a consent decree, Denny's got religion. It's now a model of diversity awareness with a Civil Rights Monitor hotline fielding complaints and providing guidance to managers and other employees. Both companies are better today, but did they need to transform so traumatically and expensively?
It’s more difficult and expensive to attract new customers to your business than to keep them. It is also more difficult and expensive to control and demean a person than to incorporate their insights and talents into the collective.
Europe learned this and now subordinates parochial national and ethnic interests in favor of the more pragmatic European Union. Subcontinent Muslims and Hindus will soon learn rattling nuclear sabers is far less productive than tending their economies.
To be successful, it's not sufficient to treat others the way you want to be treated, but rather how they want to be treated. A basic tenet in customer service, so should it be in our everyday dealings.
To best know your customer, your employee base should reflect your customer base. It's the most efficient way to learn how those different from you want to be treated. For "if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you'll learn things you never knew you never knew." In days of Rodney King, Larry King and the Lion King, a Doctor King may again be needed to help us understand that the primary colors in our country or company are primary to our success. Indeed any modern day philosopher-king would remind us our whole is greater than any sum of our parts.
At the end of running your first Hash, you'll experience an epiphany. Your skin will chill, your face will beam, you may look heavenward. If you're a Southern boy remembering "White" and "Colored" water fountains, you'll cry. The exhilaration of having joined varied stripes of mankind in a difficult, common endeavor, regardless of physical differences, is a moment you'll never forget. You may have been chasing rabbits, but you'll find you were really after that exhilarating moment. The joy is wondrous. As our founding fathers adopted 222 years ago, let us again "mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" in the pursuit of ethnic equality, common decency and justice for all. The joy will be wondrous.
Whistleblowing 101: A 'How To' Primer by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - July 10-16, 1998
"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." That's how Lauren Bacall described whistling to Humphrey Bogart in the 1944 film, "To Have and Have Not." Unfortunately, blowing the whistle in business is not that easy. Often fraught with danger, it sometimes requires uncommon courage.
Prudent questions for potential whistleblowers first include: What motivates you? The money some organizations and governments promise whistleblowers? Revenge? Ethics? Or some combination? Will you be comfortable with your decision in the future? Do you have evidence of clearly illegal or unethical acts? Or are you unethically just "naming names" of those with whom you simply disagree? If indeed your heart's in the right place, your sense of justice will motivate you. Recall former Transportation Department Inspector General Mary Schiavo and ValuJet. Unless you're of the "It's not my job" ilk, you'll do what's right. For the difficult roads in life are usually the best ones. And most of us own mirrors.
Luckily, too, there are some safeguards. OSHA protects employees, who report health and safety violations, from employer retaliation. Congress is considering The Aviation and Safety Protection Act of 1997 (HR 915/S 100), ensuring the same in that industry. There are others.
Yet, too, are there risks: losing your job, unresponsive agencies who may not protect you, the emotional and mental cost to you and your family, friends may ostracize you, and of course, retaliation. As Hemingway noted, you can get still get bit by a dead bee. Jeffrey Wigand, former Vice-President for the Brown and Williamson tobacco company, helped the FDA get evidence that cigarettes were drug delivery devices. But he lost a $300,000 job and the prospect of ever being hired again as a high-level researcher. His marriage ended, and he was reportedly dogged by tobacco industry detectives and sued by Brown and Williamson. Last year he was teaching high school science for a $30,000. However, as one familiar with whistleblowing put it, "Get out of situations that are harmful to you, regardless of the money involved."
After weighing the pros and cons, if you decide to blow the whistle, here are things to do:
Remain strong. Confide in an attorney specializing in cases like yours (insurance fraud, environmental, etc.). Consult a mental health professional for emotional support (friends and family are too close to the situation to be objective). With strict fiduciary and confidentiality standards, each can support you in the two ways you'll need it most: legally and emotionally.
Stay safe. By trusting selected others, you'll avail yourself of people who'll help you look out for yourself and your loved ones. Don't take unnecessary risks. Be careful whom you trust; keep the number small.
Get all the evidence you can. Keep a log in a bound book, ensuring no pages can be added or removed. Document everything applicable and regularly. Keep it in a safe place. Get copies of everything incriminating you can (remember "The Firm"). The weight of evidence and totality of the record will matter a great deal.
Think ahead. Prepare an "escape plan" to get out of the situation quickly and safely. Remove all but essential materials from your office, without it appearing obvious. Of what's left, decide what you must remove and what you can leave behind. Mentally practice "escaping."
Seize the initiative. Choose the time and place to announce your position. If resigning, include a brief letter generally describing your reasons. Deliver it in person, along with an unbiased witness.
Maintain the high ground. Don't depreciate your position and cause by acting immaturely. Avoid screaming and petty behavior. Having consulted an attorney and mental health professional, you'll be better able to do so.
People who have the whistle blown on them are, in fact, "con men" hoping to instill confidence in their marks. They want us to trust them. Whistleblowers expose con men, turning them into what they should be: con-victs. The great achievements in history are almost always accomplished by the courageous. Whistleblowers act courageously to protect others. For the essence of whistleblowing is, in the end, about courage: to have or have not.
Don't Let a Lawsuit Ruin Your Entire Day by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - August 7-13, 1998
Shortly after 3am, June 3, 1969, the USS Frank E. Evans was cut in half by the Australian aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne, in the South China Sea. The destroyer had inexplicably turned in front of the Melbourne. The forward half of the Evans sank in three minutes with heavy loss of life. Her Commanding Officer woke up in the water.
His written Night Orders to the Officer-of-the-Deck specified he was to be awakened if the Evans changed course. Tragically, LTjg Rodger Ramsey failed to do so, reportedly because he was afraid to make the call.
Scores of men died, the Evans was gravely wounded and the career of her "CEO," Commander Albert S. McLemore, was over. All because an "employee" didn't feel safe enough to communicate vital information to "management."
Ship drivers have an old saying: "A collision at sea can ruin your entire day." An employee's lawsuit can do that and much more. To avoid a "collision" between employee and employer, well-written "night orders" alone won't suffice. Extra steps are necessary to ensure policies and procedures are faithfully executed, lest one wake up in the water.
Yet, how does a CEO ensure this? For many employees feel, accurately or not, that they cannot trust their employer. By reporting "bad" news of fraud or other abusive behavior, they fear retaliation in its many forms. For example, 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, reports receiving thousands of calls each year from anguished workers who say they are being sexually harassed at work, but are afraid to complain.
A wise and caring CEO seeks to eradicate such fear. A prudent CEO knows hearing the truth from employees is crucial to ethical business success and can also avert traumatic and expensive lawsuits.
Regarding sexual harassment, two recent Supreme Court rulings (Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton) put companies at risk for litigation now more than ever. Notably, neither Ellerth nor Faragher complained to management before they sued.
The Court made clear that employers are responsible for the sexual misconduct of their employees, even if the employer knew nothing of the improper behavior. Employers must now anticipate misconduct and take proactive steps to prevent it. If you're a CEO, here are ways prevent a lawsuit from ruining your entire day: - Review policies. Arrange for an outside audit of your current policies and procedures regarding waste, fraud and abusive behavior. An objective review will impartially address the sufficiency of your existing policies and practices regarding both prevention and employee reporting. - Spread the word. Widely promulgate your policies. Conduct frequent "rights and responsibilities" training. Employees should be individually counseled on the company's policies concerning improper behavior and what they should do if they learn of any. - Walk the talk. Make clear by personal example that you will not tolerate waste, fraud or abusive behavior anywhere in the company. Emphatically reiterate your ethics often. - Seek feedback. Frequently ask employees, at all levels, if everything is okay. Ensure all understand you sincerely want to know if anything improper is going on. - Document everything. Keep records concerning issuance of company policies, promulgation of procedures, preemptive counseling, training, requests for feedback, etc. - Most importantly. Contract for ombudsman services--outside the company--allowing employees to confidentially report alleged waste, fraud or abuse, without fear of retaliation. Charges may then be objectively investigated by an ethical, experienced professional, unbiased by issues influencing those within the company. The ombudsman will impartially report any substantiated wrongdoing to management, without identifying the reporting employee. Corrective, preemptive action may then be taken, benefiting both employee and the company. For mere pennies a day per employee, an outside ombudsman is also an invaluable "insurance policy" against employee lawsuits, which even the best internal mechanisms and Employee Assistance Programs can't provide. Twenty-nine years ago, seventy-four men died in calm seas on a moonlit night in June. All because an "employee" didn't feel safe enough to communicate vital information to "management." It was completely avoidable. Every day employee lawsuits cost companies millions and some CEOs their jobs. Many because an employee didn't feel safe enough to communicate vital information to management. They, too, are completely avoidable. *** Companies Don't Practice The Ethics That They Preach (IndustryWeek: June 1, 2000) "Despite the existence of ethics programs at many companies, more than 75% of the employees surveyed by accounting and consulting firm KPMG LLP say that in the last 12 months they have observed legal violations or violations of company standards within their organizations. The most common infractions: sexual harassment, employment discrimination, deceptive sales practices, breach of the environment, and unsafe working conditions. In addition, 61% of those surveyed by KPMG said they did not think their company would discipline individuals who were guilty of an ethical infraction. Nearly as many -- 55% -- said their CEO was unapproachable if an employee needed to deliver "bad" news."
Why Lying Can Be a Tricky Business by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - September 25-October 1, 1998
Dateline: Prague, Czech Republic.
On a brand new highway, two Czech policie stop a U.S. businessman driving toward the German border. "Grosse probleme! Grosse probleme!" one bellows. They claim he lacks an autobahn vignette (sticker) on his German car, allowing him on the highway. When the businessman points to a vignette just bought, the policie lie, claiming it's no good. They demand a 5,000 koruna ($170) fine.
Czech policie legally collect traffic fines on the spot, but reportedly also extort money from rich Germans, under threat of jail. Though having plenty, the businessman says he has few koruna. He thus avoids jail for a mere 700. The policie are extortionists, they lied. The businessman keeps his money, but he lied, too. A case study in ethics.
Here in the land of the fifty-cent beer and in other less-developed countries, the law of supply and demand becomes quite visceral. Stomachs churn from both hunger and fear. Money often means the difference between surviving or not, as it does in any poorer area. Ethics becomes relative.
Most reading this column work to "make a buck" to improve their standard of living: a new car, better house, higher tuitions, deserved vacations. But in this former East Bloc country, "making a koruna" often means not just a better life, but survival itself. Getting what you can out of another is not occasional, it's allegedly the standard work ethic; particularly if you're a member of the policie.
It would be inaccurate and unfair to label the Czech people or even its policie by the actions of two. Nor might all American businessmen behave as this one did. Yet it's an example of "When Ethics Collide."
Customs differ from country to country, culture to culture. When do such differences justify behavior and when are they properly superceded by a more generally accepted standard? Under the guise of cultural differences and economic hardship, should lying in the Czech Republic be more acceptable than in America? Defending against extortion, should the businessman's lie to the Czech policie be more acceptable than lying to U.S. police?
Throughout Europe, most don't understand the U.S. concern over President Clinton's lying to the American people. The purpose of the lie and the content of the deceit apparently excuse it. Just as the purpose of the lie and content of the deceit apparently absolved the Czech policie. After all, we're talking about only a few korunas here, perhaps to feed a child. Do we then excuse the businessman's lie, based on its purpose and content?
We seem to judge lying, not with regard to lying itself, but rather its purpose and content. Few might argue with lying to save one's child, for example. Therefore, when is lying okay and when is it not? Where's the line?
Honesty can be practiced to a fault, of course. Witness "est" (Ehrhard Seminar Training) of the '70s, for those aged enough to remember. est graduates believed whatever thought passed through one's mind deserved voice. Yet few would succeed in business following that route.
Perhaps the key lies in what harm, if any, is done. The polls indicate most people don't feel harmed by the President's lying, because they don't feel harmed by his infidelity or covert dalliances. They do feel harmed, though, by Saddam Hussein's lying because he's covertly making weapons of mass destruction, targeted at us. Tolerance of lying thus lies on a continuum.
As the European Union edges toward adopting the euro and the world continues to shrink, it is likely more common cultural ethics will follow. As the techno-communication revolution leads us into a new sociology, can a more shared standard of principled behavior be far behind? Yet defining acceptable and unacceptable lying will still challenge us.
On his flight home, the businessman selects the film, "Wag the Dog." The film proclaims the dog wags its tail because it's smarter than the tail, otherwise the tail would wag the dog. Is it that liars mistakenly think they're smarter? "A little lie that makes people feel better isn't really wrong," says a character in "Harriet the Spy." That's certainly true. So again, when does fibbing cross the line? I invite your views. No lie.
Mergers Can Be Like Driving in Italy by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - October 16-22, 1998
Driving in Italy is a challenge. Most Americans feel scared, overwhelmed at what seems total chaos. Lane markers mean nothing. Stoplights are mere suggestions. No one gives way to another. Courtesy in merging is non-existent. It's every man, woman and Cinquecento for himself. The goal: to simply survive and keep going.
Yet, despite countless gridlocks and inefficiencies, traffic does move. Because everyone is playing by the same "rules." That is, there are no rules. Everybody knows it. Snooze, you lose. Bullying wins the day.
Mergers and acquisitions of companies can feel much the same: like it's every (wo)man for himself. Everyone struggles to discern the new rules. The goal: to simply survive and keep going. But what happens when there are no rules? Should bullying win the day?
Ethics is simply a code of right and wrong. It's the rules a group creates for governing behavior. When there are no rules, there are no generally accepted ethics. People can get scared. They may act rashly, impulsively, perhaps meanly. Bullying is rewarded.
When two entities merge, success is greater if the new entity resembles neither the previous two, but instead creates its own identity. Merging an apple and orange best succeeds if the new entity looks like, say, a pear. Unlike a redesigned apple or orange, the pear has no "second class citizens." Fear and rivalry are minimized. A new set of "rules" for all is created. No one is ahead or behind the power curve. People feel safer. Merger is much more efficient and successful.
Consider two single parents re-marrying. Joining their respective families, how do they ensure equanimity, and resulting merger efficiency and success? What questions should they ask themselves, each other, and their kids to monitor how the merger's going? It's the same in business.
An enlightened company CEO here in Italy leads such an organizational transition. To best do so, he asked the following about his company as it makes the transformation. His questions are astute:
Do people still find working here rewarding, a challenge in the right context? Do people feel recognized for their contribution? How healthy is communication within the new organization? Is information getting to all levels? Is the new organization optimally structured, or are we wasting human resources and people's time working around institutional impediments? What are employees' biggest likes and dislikes? Are they significant enough to take action? Do employees know where the new organization is headed and what their role is?
To ensure an efficient, successful merger, keep these primary precepts in mind: - Be honest with everyone from the beginning. You're not dumb and neither are most of your employees. They know a major change is coming. Tell 'em the truth, before circumstances and time get the upper hand, creating reasons for people to become fearful, defensive and possibly angry. The less folks worry and maneuver to survive the changes, the more productive they'll be. And the more likely your best people will stick around.
- Within the context of change, endeavor to establish stability. Be sensitive to people's needs, fears and desires, which govern us all. Create a level playing field. And make it fun. It CAN be done.
- Publicize the new opportunities for employee growth and advancement. It's essential employees you intend to retain recognize changes in the organization as personally beneficial to them. Communicate that the rising tide of merger will raise all ships. Everyone will benefit.
Once an American accepts the Italian code of driving ethics, it's actually fun...like bumper cars. Cutting off a fellow Fiat or muscling a Masseratti can be a lark. The key is in accepting and adapting to the new rules, which apply to all. It's a good lesson for companies, managers and employees going through merger or acquisition.
Remember: make the new rules clear and open from the outset, create stability by making both entities as equal as possible, and publicize the new opportunities and rewards for all. Oh, and create a pear.
Interested in mergers and acquisitions? Denver's Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth presents "Corporate Growth in Colorado: Leveraging the Opportunities." Friday, October 16th. Call 303.296.6300 for details. Ciao!
Business Gifts Require Presents of Mind by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - November 6-12, 1998
.Poor Mike Espy. You wouldn't want to be in his shoes now. He's the former three-term, Jackson, Mississippi Congressman who--before his forced resignation--was President Clinton's first Secretary of Agriculture from 1993-94. Special prosecutor Donald C. Smaltz has Mike in U.S. District Court in D.C. these days on 38 felony charges of corruption. Seems Mississippi Mike is accused of accepting $35,458 worth of plane rides, sporting tickets and other gifts he knew he wasn't supposed to receive. Perennially bow-tied, Dandy Don says Mike did so repeatedly (from the day he took office!) saying ethics laws were "a bunch of junk."
On the benevolence end, Tyson Foods Inc. challenged the adage that it's better to give than to receive. The poultry-giant pleaded guilty in December to giving Espy more than $12,000 in illegal gratuities. It paid a $4 million fine for the largesse. That's a lotta chickens. Besides Tyson Foods, Mike allegedly accepted gifts from Sun-Diamond Growers of California, Oglethorpe Power Corp. of Georgia, Smith Barney Inc., EOP Group Inc., Quaker Oats Co., and Fernbank Inc. Apparently several companies weren't too clear on how business gifting may be inappropriate.
Naturally, there are accusations of political motivation on both sides. But what's the lesson for those of us in the hinterlands? Answer: think before you give or receive.
As the holiday season approaches and companies get their gift orders in, Rick Bowman, President of Advertising Products Company, reminds there's a "difference between a thank you gift and a reward." APC's Cheryl Prangley, who counts Norwest Bank and Lockheed-Martin among her clients, notes "presentation is important, timing is important. Any quid pro quo should be minimized." Words to heed. On the receiving end, attorney Michael Sabbath suggests asking oneself the questions: What are my duties, obligations and expectations in accepting a gift? What's the motive, the intent? Is the gift manipulative?
Of course, many companies and organizations have policies (or should have) concerning gifting and receiving presents. Likewise, many professional organizations have codes of ethics or conduct that guide members. These give rise to more concrete questions such as: Is the gift illegal? Is it against organizational policy? How are my boss, co-workers and employees going to view the transaction, in light of the published code?
Within an organization, it can be a different matter, but not much. Generally, the same spirit of right and wrong gift-giving and receiving applies.
With regard to a gift itself, it might be helpful to assess how close the gift is to cash. For example, tickets to a football game, when the giver joins you, are likely normal business entertainment gifts. However, if the tickets are just handed out, it starts to get close to cash. A good rule of thumb is: the greater the value of the gift and/or the closer it is to cash, the more vulnerable it is to unfavorable review by others.
Here are some other guidelines: - Alcohol, including wine subscriptions, is best left for those you know well, who won't be offended - Lingerie, jewelry and perfumes are only for intimates to exchange - Joke gifts may backfire and cause embarrassment - Avoid gifts during negotiations or bidding processes - Food gifts should accommodate the recipient's dietary needs - Try to tailor the gift to the receiver - Desk and travel accessories are always appropriate - Charitable gifts in the recipient's name are classy
Sometime after Thanksgiving, Mississippi Mike will learn which, if any, of Dandy Don's charges stick. No matter, the tension will ruin the Espy family's Turkey Day in Jackson. And all because his greed, or appearance of it, got the best of him. Don't let anything similar happen to you. The holidays are a time for giving from the heart and showing your appreciation for folks you care about, including loyal customers and valued employees. Gifting should not be to curry favor or seek business advantage. Only quality products and superior service can rightly do that. Only benevolent, skilled leadership will firmly retain valued employees. Inappropriate gifts, both the giving and receiving of them, can be tacky, unethical, even illegal. They only risk the stability and growth of good business relationships. Happy Thanksgiving.
Good Business Covers Many Bases by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - December 4-10, 1998
?This is not a book review column. However, I just finished a good one, from which I'm about to borrow.
Many management books cross my desk, but "From Worst to First: Behind the Scenes of Continental's Remarkable Comeback" is special in both its simple principles and proven application. The words of the CEO who turned around a $6 billion, 40,000 person company are amusing and educational. I recommend it.
For the busy, Gordon Bethune's book provides a compendium encapsulating its chapters. Similarly, for the busy at this holiday season, the following encapsulation reviews the columns appearing in this space during the past year.
Loyalty is a mutual responsibility sealed with trust. It's a virtue when placed wisely and defended courageously. However, loyalty doesn't require you to go against what you believe is right. Loyalty does not excuse wrongdoing. Constantly monitor your loyalties and question their validity, for your loyalties will reveal your principles.
Sexual harassment lawsuits are increasing drastically. Title VII categorizes them as either quid pro quo or "hostile environment." Smart business people address the issue directly, taking preemptive steps to protect employees and ensure their safety. It's both the ethical and pragmatic thing to do.
Our Declaration of Independence decreed: "We hold...that all men are created equal...." Talk about your ethical mandate! But forget ethics for the moment, just think pragmatically. $176 million later, Texaco understands the need for treating all people fairly. It's far more difficult and expensive to control and demean a person than to incorporate their insights and talents. The ethical and adroit pursue ethnic equality, common decency and justice for all.
The great achievements in history are almost always accomplished by the courageous. Whistleblowers act courageously to protect others. After weighing the pros and cons, if you decide to blow the whistle: remain strong; stay safe; get all the evidence you can; think ahead; seize the initiative; and maintain the high ground.
A prudent CEO knows hearing the truth from employees, by whatever means, is crucial to ethical business success and can prevent traumatic and expensive lawsuits. Review policies; widely promulgate them; walk your talk; seek feedback; document everything; hire an outside ombudsman, unfettered by internal biases, allowing employees to make confidential reports of wrongdoing.
We seem to judge lying by its purpose, content and context. Lies to conceal information to protect the innocent, or to make people feel good, are likely white. Lies to conceal facts or behavior that is unethical, illegal or harmful are inexcusable. Lying is always risky business. Get in the habit of not.
When two entities merge, success is more likely if the new entity resembles neither the previous two, but instead creates its own identity. Merging an apple and orange best succeeds if the new entity looks like, say, a pear. Unlike a redesigned apple or orange, the pear has no "second class citizens." Fear and rivalry are minimized. A new set of "rules" for all is created. No one is ahead or behind the power curve. People feel safer. Merger is much more efficient and successful.
Think before you give or receive gifts that may be unethical, illegal or simply tacky. Read your company's policy. Be careful concerning alcohol, lingerie, jewelry, perfume, joke gifts, pricey gifts and food. Do not give or receive gifts during negotiations or litigation. Consider how others may view the exchange. The greater the value of a gift and/or the closer it is to cash, the more vulnerable it is to unfavorable review by others.
Previous Ethics columns are available at www.amcity.com/denver or by contacting my office. Your comments on past columns or suggestions for future topics are always invited.
A final, year-end thought. Gordon Bethune's book emphasizes dignity and respect in dealing with others. The author Tom Wolfe thinks your soul is your relationship to other people. Could it be?
Success! But at what price? by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - January 15-21, 1999
I know, I know. Other cities have done it before. Yes, yes, they're simply the first guys to get caught. Just dumb luck, that's all. Amazing how folks can bend reality and their own minds in an effort to escape the responsibility of basic wrongdoing. It's called rationalization. The gang in Salt Lake City responsible for winning the 2002 Winter Olympics for that town were once local heroes. Today the city hangs its head in shame. And deservedly so. What their leaders admittedly did to steer IOC votes their way is a disgrace. They should be ashamed. It doesn't matter how many other folks did it before. By acting unethically, they've given new meaning to their old moniker, Slick City.
But you can bet "the system" will end up the target of choice, not the dishonest men who bought votes. They will likely claim they were just playing the game as the game was played. It's the system's fault. Don't blame us, blame the system. Or, as the late comedian Flip Wilson parodied, "The devil made me do it."
Of course, blowing the whistle on the system was out of the question. That might have taken courage, guts. It might have meant possibly losing the Olympics bid. And that would have meant a lotta gold out the window. Far simpler to sidestep the ethical responsibility to report extortionist behavior, to report the so-called agents who were brokering votes for a price. Far easier to advance one's interests than do justice by the whole.
But many will say nothing's that simple. That itself is a credo of those bent on rationalization. The world isn't black and white; it's mostly gray. And therein lies the rub. The essence of ethical behavior lies in discerning when a gray area is really not gray but truly black or white.
Avoiding responsibility has become an art form in this country. It's not the rapist's fault, it's the victim's. What was she wearing that dress for, anyway? It's not the clumsy, less than bright consumer's fault, the coffee was too hot. How dare the store serve "hot" coffee? What were they thinking?
Lying rationalized as private behavior. Impeachment rationalized as politics. Olympic payola rationalized as "the system." All speak volumes about our increasing ability to reframe wrongdoing as something else.
The drive to win is consuming us. The need to outperform last quarter's results is getting in the way of decent and ethical behavior. We all value success. But success at what price? When do the ends justify the means?
In business, accountability is the new watchword in vogue. About time. We excuse much behavior of young children as immature. Often they truly do not know of what they do. Not so with adults. Adults, seemingly wanting a system fair to all, must be accountable for their actions--by the rest of the adults! Enforcement of the rules of society and laws on the books is inherent to maintaining an orderly world.
Business leaders are often guilty of not regarding responsibility as a two-way street. They hold their managers and employees responsible for successful performance and ethical behavior. Yet, all too often, the powerful forget they have the same responsibility. When the quest for success blinds us to the requirement to be ethically responsible, careers derail, coffers deplete. And justly so. The price must be paid.
Many condemn excusing the serious misconduct of point-producing athletes. Yet, profit-producing leaders ought not be excused serious misconduct, either. Failing to hold leaders just as responsible, just as accountable as those they lead erodes and undermines a group's belief in itself.
Slick City can still repair some of it's reputation by acting decisively to discipline those who disgraced it. No deals. No compromising "solutions." By doing so, others will think twice. For it's not the severity, but the certainty of punishment that deters.
But what of the cities who lost the 2002 bid? They didn't get beat out. They got bought out. They at least deserve some financial recompense. The price must be paid.
People get the leaders they deserve. When the people don't uphold their principles, it doesn't diminish the principles. It diminishes the people. As we start the new year, remember an old film line, "People are their principles."
Dan and Mike: a familiar story by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - February 5-11, 1999
Well, it's over. Yes, the Super Bowl, but I mean the long-standing feud between Falcons coach, Dan Reeves, and the Broncos' Mike Shanahan. Oh, it's not over? You mean it's only faded from the sports radar screen for awhile? Well, as they're saying in Atlanta, "Wait 'til next year!"
But the wise won't wait. They'll draw lessons from Dan and Mike and make adjustments. They'll see that, lo those many years ago, neither Dan nor Mike handled their problem very well. Then, as now, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."
If the two were the good buds they say they were, what happened? Did one perceive a coup? Did the other perceive mistrust? Whatever it was, one of 'em should have calmly brought the matter to the table, out in the open, into the light. (General rule: It's amazing how much of life goes better when it's thrown open into the sun.)
Unfortunately, silence was kept until tempers were lost. Now time and venom have entrenched Dan and Mike. They'll need an unbiased third party to guide them from the mire they created, if they're to get out of it.
For those who want to keep small problems from becoming big ones, here are some tips:
First, make sure your objectives are honorable.
For those whom winning a disagreement is an ego trip or vindication of their unbearable rightness of being, good luck. If your goal is to make someone else look bad, or gain an advantage by the situation, your heart's in the wrong place. If so, stop here, the below won't help.
It's a disagreement, not cancer. Stay calm. (Note: many a road rager is now taking a dirt nap for failing to heed this tip).
Most folks don't like confrontation, but putting it off just delays and stokes it. Facing the music early on keeps the volume low.
Make clear what you want.
Clearly communicate that you want to resolve the misunderstanding or your differences, fairly. Do your best to get the other person to trust that you do.
Ask for the other person's view.
Be the gentleman or lady. Let the other person go first. It's not only polite, it confirms your good will, commitment to fairness and sincere desire to resolve the problem civilly. Ask one question which encapsulates your confusion about the situation, then be quiet.
It's one of the most bandied words of advice these days on interpersonal relations, but it's still true. And you don't have to spend seven years and seventy large getting a doctorate to learn how true it is. Just do it. Respect the other person's point of view, no matter how outlandish it may seem. Everybody deserves their day in court. You expect yours. Allow the other person the same. You'll be surprised at how much you'll learn.
Remember the greater good.
Ask yourself what is best for the organization, the relationship, not just yourself. None of us is irreplaceable (as my editor keeps reminding me). Ground your argument or viewpoint in the greater good.
If you're wrong, admit it.
God knows men, in general, have a hard time asking for directions, much less admitting error. Women are usually less hubristic (thank goodness!). What's the big deal? Quickly admitting mistakes: saves pain and suffering, prevents sleepless nights, wastes less time, checks unnecessary stress, allows you to concentrate on more important things, and would avoid an impeachment here and there.
Accept the result.
Unlike football, most outcomes in interpersonal disputes have no clear cut winner and loser. Embrace a compromise. Shake hands and smile.
To be sure, there's not always green grass on the gridiron. Sometimes conflict arises, not from miscommunication, but because one party does injustice to another. But in far too many cases, simple misunderstanding is at the root of it. Don't let it fester, don't keep butting your head against the wall. When the running game's not working, air it out. Speak up. Call a meeting. Resolve it early.
Alas, in the Reeves-Shanahan saga, the talk--or lack of it--continues. Next year, Dan, Mike, call me. We'll do lunch.
15 Minutes of Shame by Marshall Colt, Ph.D. The Denver Business Journal - May 28-June 3, 1999
I made a big mistake the other day. Perhaps not so big in the grand scheme of things, but big enough to awaken me several nights since. In the name of loyalty, I let myself be used. And I knew better.
The day after the tragedy here in Colorado I received a phone message, then another, from an out-of-state radio producer. The very nice lady (aren't most people when they want something?) said she produced the talk show of an old Navy buddy of mine (whom I never hear from). Would I please go on the air with my friend about the tragedy?
I didn't return either message, but instead called my friend later that day. I left him the message that I didn't think there was anything I could contribute to his show. There were many post-trauma experts in his area who could speak to the situation. And I was too far removed from the tragedy to add any meaningful "on scene" information for his listeners. But if he just wanted to chat, I’d be happy to do so. I didn't hear back from him.
Instead, the next day his producer called and left yet another message. My friend was asking a third time: would I please (out of loyalty) come on the show?
I had not returned the producer's previous calls because I knew what she (and my friend) wanted: yet another person near the tragedy to comment on it. Not for the information, but because I was close to it, from their perspective.
I've spent over twenty years in and out of electronic media, so going on a radio show is no big deal. In fact, it's rather a pain. I know what goes on behind the scenes and some of the less honorable motivations. And I don't need or want the exposure. I long ago had my fifteen minutes of fame.
My embarrassment at my decision to let my friend interview me hit mid-way through. I felt sick. My speech began to falter, I hesitated often. I couldn't find the right words. I had let myself be sucked into the media frenzy that surrounds most tragic events. In the drive for listeners, viewers and readers, people in the news business want to get as close to an event as possible. But it's not just their fault. The relationship is symbiotic.
Questions to ask yourself if you're ever asked to be interviewed? • What's the real purpose? To inform or titillate? • Will I add anything of value? Will those hearing me truly benefit, or am I adding to the turmoil? • Is my ego driving me? Is my information important, or does it just make me feel important? • Do I just "wanna be on TV?" Most people do, but using a tragic event is not right.
What harm did I do? A fair amount. I contributed to the frenzy. I joined the fray of people yammering about an incident that for a time took the headlines from the ongoing tragedy in Kosovo. I spouted about post-trauma psychological phenomena, when any number of qualified clinicians in the radio show's own home town could have done much better. But they weren't called. I was. I was near Littleton. I was more "newsworthy."
What good did I do? Not much. I gave some folks an idea of what characterized post-traumatic stress, and how it should be handled. But no follow-up, no time for questions. No real value to anybody except the radio show. They got somebody near the scene on the air. They put their listeners close to the action. And I got to feel like a jerk.
Since then, have I heard from my friend? No. Friendship had little to do with it. I was simply fodder for an exploitive program. And I knew better. I'd overruled a principle of mine: Loyalty doesn't require the loyal to go against what they believe is right.
Ethics has always intrigued me, mainly because it's an ongoing challenge. It requires constant vigilance. I write this column to raise ethical awareness and promote my business. It wasn't ethical for me to go on that program. But I did. And I apologize.
Flyin' the Frenzied Skies by Marshall Colt, Ph.D.
Not a whole lotta time to think about business principles and ethics when flying Air Moldovoa from Chisinau to Frankfurt. The constant creaking sounds make it hard to focus on developing one idea over seven hundred words. Most of one's concentration goes to simply keeping the Soviet-built, Yakovlev Yak-42 up in the air. So as I gnaw on my lamb kabob (for breakfast!), and the plane gnaws on my nerves, allow me the luxury of jotting down a kabob of skewered thoughts. With knuckles whiter than Colorado snow, gripping one of their cognac-laced coffees, here goes:
Actions speak louder than words - It was a relatively small newspaper story a few months ago. The CEO of Level 3 Communications, Jim Crowe, "surprised his shareholders" by announcing ahead of time his plans to sell some of his stock and why (he wanted to repay his start-up debts). Crowe doesn't require his company officers to do the same, they need only "comply with the law." But Crowe decided to go further. Why? "At the end, I'm the Chief Executive officer, so the buck sort of stops here." Harry Truman would be proud. I know I am.
You gotta walk your talk - It's surprising how many organizations say they have a functional purpose or mission, but actually don't. It may be written down somewhere, but it's only there, it's not in the hearts and minds of the folks in the organization. Many mission statements even gild the lily with reminders to act ethically and in the best interests of the customer. But often it's only a CYA move, not really lived. As the saying goes, when you're up to your, uh, neck in alligators, it's hard to remember your goal was to drain the swamp. And so as crises arise, many companies use band-aid approaches to solve their problems. But that's when they should refer to their mission statement. It's the ball to keep your eye on and will guide you through many a morass. Not just talked, it must be walked every day. One group walking its talk is the non-profit Alliance of Professional Consultants, of which I'm a member. Its mission is "to elevate the level of educational, professional and ethical standards of business consulting, and facilitate the referral of high quality consultants to the regional business community." Working to those ends every day, they do background checks on potential members and have a strict professional credentialing process. They live their mission statement.
International ethics - The "Financial Times" of London just completed a fine series on ethical business. I invite you to read such articles as: "Principles that work in practice," "When conforming with the rules is not enough," "Conundrums of corporate misconduct," and "The value of virtue in a transparent world." "Domnisoara? Could I have another one of those...? Uh, what's THAT noise? Oh.... You know, what? Nu coffee, just the cognac, va rog. Multumesc. Da, da, the breakfast was delicious."
Yakety-yak - I kid Air Moldova, but it's really a safe and friendly airline. The Yak-42 was specifically built for primitive airports without runways, to operate in such severe climates as northern Siberia, so it's a hardy airframe. Moldova itself is often mistaken for a fictional place in the "Dynasty" TV show years back. Nestled between Romania and the Ukraine, it's actually one of the NIS (Newly Independent States) countries, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Multumesc.