Category Archives: Ethics

Blog on ethics

Executive Corner – 5 Steps To Building an Ethical Organization that Thrives

Greetings Leaders!

I’ve been contemplating a situation that many of us have seen before. An organization spends a lot of money and time on building a culture of trust, openness and transparency. Yet, the changes don’t take and the company culture doesn’t change as expected. What gives?

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Leadership and Joe Paterno – A Life Lesson for All of Us

Greetings Leaders!

Like many of you, I have been watching the events unfold surrounding Jerry Sandusky, Penn St. and Joe Paterno. The NCAA came out with its ruling the other day. $60 million in fines and vacating all of Coach Paterno’s wins from 1998. I’ve also been watching the responses. Some calling it unfair. Others saying that the NCAA didn’t go far enough. Whatever your take, there are some life lessons here for all of us.

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To Glenn Beck – To Help America Recover – Stop and Think

Greetings Leaders!

I was sitting at Starbucks yesterday morning day trading, when a very casual acquaintance came up and asked me where I thought the economy was going. I shrugged. He then proceeded to tell me that President Obama was a communist and heathen and that the he was (apparently) single-handedly responsible for destroying our country. He was very passionate about his message, and when I tried to ask about all the things he inherited, I basically got ignored. Remembering the saying “don’t throw pearls before swine”, I just let the conversation, albeit one-sided, die.

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Leadership – Why Belief In A Higher Power Matters

Greetings Leaders!

There is an interesting initiative making its way through the California legislative process. Merry Hyatt of Redding California is pushing to have an initiative, requiring Christmas carols to be sung in public schools, placed on the ballot next year (Read the article here).

I haven’t read the initiative, but I think it is an important for a number of reasons. In order not to polarize the issue I won’t discuss the initiative itself, but want to ask the question, is it wise to take religion out of schools while at the same time teaching that evolution means there is no god?

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Have We Lost Our Innocence?

Greetings Leaders!

Yesterday I accompanied my wife on an extra-credit assignment for a class she is taking at Sacramento State. We went to the California History Museum in Sacramento and were treated to a educational trip down memory lane. There were several exhibits that I found interesting and thought provoking.

The Journey – and – the Welcome

One of the exhibits we visited was a video documentary of early migrants who made their way to California in the 1920s – 1950s. One of the stories revolved around a family moving to Anaheim from Texas in a 1950s car emblazoned with a sign that indicated they were from Texas. Upon their arrival they were surprised at how many people would wave to them and say things like, “welcome to California, Texas”! Is that the same greeting they would get today? I don’t think so. In fact I jokingly told my wife that people might wave, but they would probably be waving something else at them besides their open hands. What has happened to our country since the 1960s? Have we lost our innocence?

Cultural Melting Pot

With all the talk of illegal immigrants today, I was astounded to learn that California has always had a large immigrant population. In the 1860s, 39% of California’s populace were immigrants with this number slowly declining to around 13% in the 1990s. With the rise in immigration recently, today 22% of California’s populace were born outside of  California. Put in perspective, today we have less foreign born Californians (by percentage) now then we did 100 years ago. So why the big fuss? Have we lost sight of who we are? Are those of us who achieved prosperity by the opportunities provided by America now trying to close the doors on others who have a dream?

All the best!
All the time!
JT

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Torture – Leading with Honor?

I was listening to Fresh Air on National Public Radio this morning while driving between clients and they were discussing the Spanish Court’s investigation of the Bush Administration’s role in the torture of prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay. What caught my attention was the discussion of SERE School (Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion) having been used as justification for approval of torture. As a SERE graduate, I found what I heard somewhat disturbing and perhaps a bit misleading.

It was 1984 when I went through the US Navy’s SERE School as an Ensign, just prior to reporting to Patrol Squadron Forty as a Naval Flight Officer. At the time, all Navy Aircrewmen were required to go through SERE School to prepare them for the harsh conditions we were likely to face if captured by the enemy. The training was modeled after experiences that Prisoners of War (POWs) experienced in both Korea and Vietnam.

During this time, I remember how the North Vietnamese and Korean prisoner of war camps were portrayed. I can without a doubt say that the vast majority of naval officers felt that the techniques that were utilized on captured US military personnel were barbaric.

SERE School was not something you wanted to go through twice. It was a joke amongst Naval Aviators that our SERE School diploma was the only training document that we kept multiple copies of, to ensure that we could always prove that we had been through it so we wouldn’t have to go through it again.

SERE School was a week of intense training and included classroom activities as well as field exercises. The last part of the training was a survival and resistance exercise in the field. During the final 24 hours of this exercise, we were held in a mock POW camp. I say “mock”, but the line between reality and training was blurred pretty well.

Before I get into any specifics, I want to make it very clear that while intense, this was some of the best training I  received while in the Navy. The instructors, while intimidating, were consummate professionals. There were checks and balances throughout the program to ensure that while were we being tested, that we were in no way going to go through something we wouldn’t survive.

As part of the training, we had eaten very little and endured being in the field for a few days before being placed in the POW camp. We were tired, hungry, sore and of course filthy. The last 24 hours started off with a simulated plane crash and our release into the woods to practice our evasion techniques. If we were able to reach certain checkpoints undetected we were rewarded with a peanut butter sandwich.

Eventually, everyone entered captivity. If you were fortunate enough to escape the search parties who were firing weapons (blanks of course) and walking German Shepherds around the exercise area, you still had to surrender when the “all clear” siren sounded. Upon our capture, we were blindfolded and unceremoniously tossed into the back of a cramped truck which took us to the POW compound. Upon arrival, we were given War Criminal Numbers (I was War Criminal 62), and shoved into our little “spaces” (about the size of a dog house) which would be home for the next 24 hours. During our brief stay there we were interrogated and subjected to different kinds of simulated torture.

I don’t know what portions of the training have been declassified, so will stick to waterboarding as it has been in the news so much that it is basically common knowledge. Yes, we faced waterboarding in SERE School. Not everyone thankfully. But some did. During my class, one of our students was scheduled to become a SERE Instructor. He was subjected to much harsher treatment than the rest of us. Not as a right of initiation, but to ensure that he knew all aspects of the training and could relate to what the students were going to experience. I still remember watching him being placed on a board, strapped down, a washcloth placed over his mouth and water poured over his face till he was gasping for air. All I could think of was, “I hope I’m not next!” Thankfully, most of us were spared the waterboard.

While waterboarding in training may seem barbaric to some of you, let me remind you that back in the 1980s, the memory of torture of POWs in Vietnam and Korea was still very much alive. To think that we would be spared this kind of treatment if captured, was just a bit altruistic. The world can be a very nasty place. This training helped prepare us mentally if we were ever unfortunate enough to be captured.

What saddens me though, is how the US has now become like so many of our enemies of the past. This is going to upset you fans of 24, but I can’t stand that show because it advocates the use of torture to gain information, or to achieve a “higher” purpose. We need to be very careful in what we begin to believe is an acceptable course of action to achieve a purpose, no matter how honorable we might think it to be.

I remember watching the Hanoi Hilton (a film about the POW experience in Vietnam) and cringing at the torture that was dished out. It made me proud to wear the uniform of a US Naval Officer. Why? Because we were different. We were the ones being tortured and not the ones dishing it out. On a positive note, I was elated to here that all branches of the military advised the Bush Administration against the use of torture in Guantanamo Bay. The military knows it is a Pandora’s box. If we torture others, our servicemen and women will also face torture.

I know, there is the ultimate question. “Would you torture a terrorist or criminal if they knew the whereabouts of a nuclear bomb that was set to go off?” That is a tough question. However, I will say that research has proven that information gained under torture, is usually unreliable. How do we ever know when someone is telling the truth? My guess is that if someone was stupid enough to plant a nuclear device somewhere, that they would be insane enough to resist telling the truth. At least until it didn’t matter.

What I found disturbing in the NPR broadcast, was that SERE school was used as justification for using torture on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. That it portrayed the torture methods used during the training as safe. That US personnel had survived it. What we faced at SERE School was a simulation. Yes it was harsh, but it was safe. However, I don’t know how I would have fared, if SERE School had lasted a year, and I was in a very different state of mind because my captors were real, instead of trained instructors. Going through one week of SERE School was bad enough – a year without constraints… a different animal.

Can we as man, not even agree that torture is always wrong??

All the best,
All the time,
JT

Honor Role – McKay Hatch – 16 Year Old Leader

Event

In 2007, McKay Hatch was a 14 year old Freshman just starting High School. He was tired of listening to the constant cussing by most of his friends and challenged them to stop. The result? The No Cussing Club which now has over 20,000 member around the world.

Leadership Principle

There are two principles here… 1) You have to stand up for what you believe. 2) Leaders don’t let things get in their way (in this case McKay’s age).

Reflections

  1. I am surprised by both the positive and negative reaction that McKay has generated. On the plus side, it is encouraging to know that kids and teens are willing to stand up for what is right. On the negative side, McKay and his family have received death threats over the No Cussing Club. I find it hard to fathom, that someone feels so strongly about cussing that they threaten a young teen to stop trying to bring civility to the world.
  2. I have a confession. At one point in my life, I cussed… a lot. They didn’t come up with the phrase “cuss like a sailor” without cause. Having been a Naval Aviator… nuff said. However, at some point along life’s journey, I started to realize that cussing wasn’t such a good thing. That it made people uncomfortable and just showed immaturity and a lack of class.
  3. I have run into cussing in the workplace, and it was never a good thing. It always reflected a cocky attitude that prevented others from speaking their minds. Groupthink or a hostile work environment come to mind.

Challenge

Is there cussing in your organization? Is it appropriate? If you think the answer is yes, why do we teach our kids that it is wrong? Stop the cussing in your organization – only good things will come of it. At one client, we started a cussing jar and anyone who cussed during a meeting had to fork over some cash. We used the cash for a pizza party.

McKay and Dr. Phil
McKay and Dr. Phil

All the best,
All the time
JT

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Government Leadership? An Oxymoron? What are we missing?

I just finished reading an article written by Thomas Friedman called Are We Home Alone?. The article, an Op-Ed in the New York Times, was about the lack of Inspirational leadership in our government and corporations. Friedman’s comments were well put and timely. I want to expound just a bit on his basic premise that Inspirational Leadership is the answer to our country’s woes at the moment.

Friedman quoted Dov Seidman who said, “Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do.” He then goes on to say that it is a leaders job to instill in us these values. I couldn’t agree more. However… Houston, we have a problem.

Exactly what “values” are we talking about here? As a country, we have lost a common sense of values that is the underlying fabric of our society. I don’t want to get into an argument over what these values are, that clouds the issue. The significant thing to remember is that we, and more importantly, our leaders, have lost sight of what is right and wrong. An inspirational leader, will only solve our problems if those in Congress and our Corporate CEO’s are willing to follow a common set of values. Clearly… they are not.

Barak Obama was elected President because the majority of Americans want change. We are sick and tired of business as usual. It is emotionally exhausting to pick up the Wall Street Journal everyday, only to find another leader in Congress or Corporate America looking out for their own interests, at the expense of the rest of us. Is our common value system  based on the premise, look out for numero uno?!

We need more than Inspirational leadership. A leader with Courage to bring about change is what we need! I watched the AIG incident with great interest? Why? Because it was a defining moment for our country, and we blew it. This is a collective we. Barak Obama, Congress, AIG CEO Edward Liddy, AIG Board of Directors and the AIG employees. What happened at AIG (not to mention Merril Lynch and all the other poor leadership spectacles over the past 5-10 years) is a telling tale of the future to come.

What should have been done? Edward Liddy should have been asked to resign. The bonuses should have been rescinded. The Board replaced. I’ve heard the arguments as to why the payments had to be made. Yeah. Right. Barak and Congress should have challenged them. Take them to court. Make them pay. Even if we lose, it sends a clear signal that behavior like this will not be tolerated. What really happened? We blinked. This behavior will continue for the foreseeable future, with only the Public paying the price.

All the best!
All the time!
JT

Response to Oscar Grant shooting – A Failure of Leadership

I recently reviewed the videotape of Oscar Grant’s shooting and am appalled at the response that the Oakland Police Dept. has made. I understand that every law enforcement agency has its policy and procedures for handling shootings, and that there is probably a small team of investigators working on this case right now. However, regardless of the guilt or innocence of Officer Johannes Mehserle, the leadership at the police department has made a huge mistake in how they are handling this crisis.

Assuming that the department is being run efficiently (giving them the benefit of the doubt), the officers at the scene of the shooting should have been trained to tell the truth in their internal reports made right after the incident. From the videotape, it appears (although this is in dispute) that Oscar was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground when he was shot by Mehserle. This is important, but almost irrelevant. Why? Because the video clearly, without any doubt whatsoever, shows that the officers were not in any immediate threat, that Oscar appeared to be cooperating with them, and that he was shot at point blank range, in the back, without reason.

Now, Mehserle may have felt threatened, he may have lost his nerve, or a countless number of other scenarios are possible – however, the initial reports filed by officers at the scene should have reflected that there may have been reason to suspect that a mistake was made.

I have not seen the internal reports, but here is the first hint of poor leadership. If the initial reports filed by the officers at the scene made no mention of the possibility of an error being made, then the police chief is not doing his job. If the reports are not accurate, the integrity of every police officer will be questioned. Let’s look at this from the opposite perspective – that the internal report was accurately filed and that there was an indication that a mistake had been made.

If the report was filed correctly, indicating that there were questionable circumstances involved, the officer in question should have been immediately taken into custody while an investigation was carried out. This does not mean that the officer is presumed to be guilty. What this action would have demonstrated is that the police leadership has as much respect for the victim as they do for its officers. Officers are paid by taxpayers to serve and protect… the people. All people. By failing to put Mehserle into custody, the police leadership are clearly sending a signal that they are protecting their own, regardless of the cicumstances.

I understand that this course of action would not be possible in all shootings. It is also clear that you don’t want officers to hesitate to respond with the appropriate amount of force, including discharging their weapon if and when necessary, because they fear they will be reprimanded. However, if good leadership is in place, there would be a mechanism in place to quickly and efficiently determine when to place an officer in custody after a shooting under questionable circumstances.

So regardless of the accuracy of the reports, the incident indicates that poor leadership exists. Either the reports were filed incorrectly, or they were filed correctly but appropriate action was not taken. But wait, there is more. The next indication of failed leadership is that as of today Mehserle is free (although he did resign from the force). I viewed the videotape and it gives a lot of credence to the claims that Oscar was killed unnecessarily. Because of the nature of this shooting, as soon as this video was released, Mehserle should have been placed in custody. If the situation was reversed, and an officer was shot by a known suspect, the suspect would without question be apprehended and put into custody. So what makes this any different?

What course of action would I recommend?  The mayor should terminate the police chief and immediately take Mehserle into custody and expedite the investigation to have it completed within a week.

Leadership has failed on many levels in this case. Oakland’s Mayor Ron Dellum would be wise to consider how other organizations have responded to public relations fiascos successfully in the past. A great example would be how Johnson & Johnson responded to the Tylenol scare back in 1982.

All the best,
All the time,
JT

Moral Courage and the Financial Rescue Package

I tend to be a contrarian which often puts me at odds with mainstream thinking. How we deal with rescuing the economy is no exception. While I certainly don’t want to see anyone lose their job or be put on the street, I’m not sure spending $2 Trillion is the answer. What bothers me most is that a great majority of our nation’s leaders are saying, “we have no choice”. How I translate this is…

To maintain our current standard of living (which is excessive and what got us into this mess in the first place), we have to throw a ton of money at the economy so that the consumer will start spending again.

What does Moral Courage have to do with this? Well, no one wants to commit political suicide by telling the American consumer that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, in other words, we  bit off more than we could chew. It was a drive to excess, to grab whatever we could regardless of the cost, that got us into this mess. The current financial rescue package is trying to get us back to that point. How wise is that? To return us to a status quo that drove the economy into the ground.

It’s not that I’m against having nice things, even lots of nice things. But, I do have a problem when the system gets out of whack. As an example, I bought my first house when I was in my early thirties. A few years ago, my then teenage son had a friend whose parents bought her a house… IN HIGH SCHOOL! Now, I know that is the exception, but you get the point. Our drive to “have it all” is what put $200+ jeans on the market and is what caused people to invest in things that deep down inside they knew were very risky.

Perhaps we would be better off in the long run if we went back to a simpler time. When we had to save and work for the finer things in life. We are beginning to bemoan the fact that our standard of living is certainly going to decrease. However, we should be reminded that the vast majority of Americans are probably in the top 5% (10% for sure) of the world’s population when it comes to having not only things, but a place to live, food and a relatively crime and war free place to live.

Perhaps part of the answer to our problems is that we simply couldn’t afford the lifestyle we were living and that a return to it is not the best choice. I know our leaders are talking about preventing the economy from entering a depression, but as I sit here at Starbucks, there is still not an empty chair in the room and while people have cut back, most certainly aren’t starving.

Moral Courage is needed to slow down, just a tad, and ask ourselves why we “have no choice” but to spend $2 trillion. Not popular I know – but certainly needed.

All the best,
ll the time
JT