(A Note from Lee: The internal landscape of the workplace continues to shift and change, as teams are doing more with fewer people. This also threatens work/life balance and/or burnout, new leaders being placed in leadership positions early without the necessary training and mentorship to succeed, and organizations working to retain their people talent during the “Great Resignation”.
This four-blog series, “Honorable Leadership in a Season of Volatility,” specifically focuses on helping leaders successfully navigate through these challenging times where additional, external pressures in financial, political, and business sectors are also affecting internal team and organizational effectiveness.)
“Wow! How could they do that!” “Another character failure in the headlines.” These quotes are the common phrases swirling in my mind as I read the headline about the recent Ernst and Young (EY) cheating scandal.
They are one of the largest professional service networks in the world and one of the “big four” accounting firms. They were fined $100 million dollars for cheating, and the ultimate irony is that some of their auditors were cheating on the ethics exam that they are required to take.
Before we throw too many rotten tomatoes though, let me remind you that we are all one step away from being cheaters.
“Bad ethics isn’t a ‘they’ or ‘them’ problem. The truth is that we all carry this same mutated gene that drives our egos toward self-serving dishonorable behaviors.” [Tweet This]
So rather than be the judge and the jury for Ernst and Young, let’s look inward.
The Human Condition
In my 2016 book, Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability, I spend an entire chapter on well-known companies and politicians, local teachers and students, religious pastors and prophets, and even nice next-door neighbors who misappropriated funds, cheated on tests, and decided to take the easy road to get what they wanted.
Like you and me, I’m sure they all believed they were honorable people who would always follow the law and live a life of integrity; but they made a non-courageous decision to set their integrity aside. The many examples were intended to point out that they lacked the courage and commitment to stay on course–to do the right and honorable thing.
At the core, it’s because our dysfunctional minds and hearts are weak and small, and sometimes large temptations come before us every day. We cannot be the strong, confident yet humble people that we truly want to be without courage. Courage is the antidote to this human weakness.
Watch my brief coaching clip on this topic, and then continue with the blog article below –
Two Tempting Character Examples
Recently while sharing over dinner with my wife Mary, I mentioned that I had been rationalizing on a decision and had come very close to stepping over the line of integrity, but had backed away to keep my honor.
Mary responded with a recent temptation of her own. That caught my attention, and I share the details here because Mary is the most honest person I’ve ever known. She had been tempted to add one minute to the time of her counseling session of 52 minutes, because 53 minutes would have been counted as an hour by the insurance company and could have made more money. She looked at the situation and courageously entered 52 minutes.
These are just everyday examples of how courage is essential to be an honorable person.
“What may seem like small, insignificant ethical infractions can create a slippery slope to more serious integrity decisions.” [Tweet This]
A Code of Courage and Honor
Eight years ago, I could see the handwriting on the wall as leaders continually face the temptations to cut corners on character and integrity scenarios, so we created an Honor Code. While my original inspiration was the military Code Of Conduct that my brothers and I memorized and used in the POW camps of Vietnam, the Honor Code is designed for all leaders to have a checklist to keep their honor.
After understanding how courage plays such an important role in the integrity mandate for leaders, two years ago we re-designed the circular graphic to put Courage in the center of the circle. Without courage, you cannot live up to the other six standards of honor and good character.
Without context, the word courage can be interpreted in so many ways. Most people consider courage to be acting in might and strength to face an adversary that’s holding you back or treating your unfairly. In reality, courage is more often deciding to do the right thing or make the right decision because it’s your personal promise to yourself to be an honorable person.
How does courage keep us on track to achieve our goals and do it with integrity? Let’s look at four ways –
- Courage helps us believe in ourselves. Inner confidence is an essential part of courage; it helps us overcome our fears and stand for what we say we believe.
- Courage helps us stay committed to what we know is right. Commitment is essential. Where was the commitment to honor with the accountants who cheated at EY? As Vietnam POWs, we had to confront our doubts and fears to resist enemy exploitation—even suffering torture to be faithful to our country and ourselves.
- Courage will help us stand firm when we are alone. There are daily examples showing that we humans are greatly influenced by our peers and teammates, especially when they are stepping over the line of ethical behavior.
- Courage helps us get counsel on ethical issues. Our emotions and past experiences can cloud our vision of the line separating right and wrong. When your human side is being tempted to step over the line, share the situation with a wise and honorable friend and ask them if it passes the smell test.
Courage in the Crucible
What happened at EY is sad, but it’s really a timely wake-up for all of us humans. In our culture today, we’ve had to continue operating everyday under the sustained crucible of stress and pressure, through a roller coaster of societal and work strain. During these seasons, it’s more critical than ever to find the courage to be the leader that you want to be—not side-stepping or taking the easy, dis-honorable path to get the job done.
Let’s all pause and reflect on the role that courage plays in maintaining our honor. Regardless of the daily opportunities to misrepresent the truth or lie, we must all remain vigilant and choose the truth to get the best results for us, our teams and our society.
LE [Tweet This Article]
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