Do the right thing, quickly and consistently

Last week I wrote about the 2012 Gallup Poll where only 21% of US adults rated business executives with high or very high in honesty and ethics.

Nurses, pharmacists, medical doctors, engineers, dentists, police officers, college teachers and clergy all rated “high or very high in honesty and ethics” at 50% or higher of those surveyed.

I’ve been home sick for the past two weeks. When you are not well, you sleep and rest and watch television if you are up to it. On HBO I watched a documentary about various allegations concerning several US Roman Catholic priests and their illicit behavior with young men and women from the 1950s to present day.

When the show was over I researched the two priests I knew when I was growing up, using Google. The research suggested that there were many signs, complaints, allegations and accusations against these two priests, going back decades before they were removed from positions of trust, yet no action of consequence was taken in that time period to address the concerns and alarms raised about these two men.

My research continued and I found that Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles had posted this statement on his personal blog on February 1 of this year:

“…Nothing in my own background or education equipped me to deal with this grave problem. In two years [1962—1964] spent in graduate school earning a Master’s Degree in Social Work, no textbook and no lecture ever referred to the sexual abuse of children. While there was some information dealing with child neglect, sexual abuse was never discussed…”

I am using examples from my research on the Catholic Church to instruct business owners and leaders on five key responsibility areas.

The first is that the person in charge of an organization is going to, some day, face an issue or many issues they have no experience, education or reference to.

Nothing prepares you to be a father or mother; we all learn on the job, hoping we get this lifelong job right. Or to be a business owner. Or President of the United States. Or starting and running a business. You do the best you can with what you have, and you start adding to your knowledge base, your experience base and you learn from others. You learn what you need to and never stop learning.

Second, you cannot sweep bad things under the rug hoping they go away. Jim Collins calls it “The brutal facts of your current reality.” He says it is the leaders’ responsibility to deal with these things head on. Good leaders deal with the brutal facts continually.

The third is there are people in any organization that need to move on. They might have been solid contributors in the past but can no longer be rated as such. They may be high level, or low level. They might be big producers. They may be high maintenance individuals. They may be people violating policies, procedures or the law. To protect these individuals does the organization no good, in fact, in case after case, these people harm the organization. Get rid of them as soon as they are identified.

Fourth, the organization lacks clear and visible values; mission and vision statements permitting the introduction of “gray areas” into an environment where gray has no business and cannot exist.

Everything must be black and white. Either you believe in all organizational values or you believe in none. Either your fulfill the mission statement or you do not. Either you are progressing towards a vision statement or you are not. Make things clear for all.

The fifth is that when the law is broken, you make the call, however unpleasant, to law enforcement. Doing so means you stand for something; that the rule of law is supreme and must be obeyed by all, without exception. The obligation is to the individuals who need protection of society.

It is very easy to do the wrong thing. Stephan Stills sang “..and we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do…”

It is easy to do the wrong thing, to chase money to the exclusion of all else, tolerate behavior that is unacceptable; allow law breakers to stay on the payroll, ignoring their actions.

That is why only 79% of the American public ranks business executives as having average or low honesty and ethics.

I write this because if you are a leader, in any capacity, you have an obligation and a responsibility to do the right thing. And do it quickly. Consistently.