Tag Archives: Ethics

Doing the Right Thing – A Practical Guide

do the right thing

Greetings Leaders!

While working with a group of high school students, I asked them if lying was acceptable. Without exception, they all said no – lying is wrong. Most of you probably agree and judging by their websites, all businesses agree that lying is not an ethical thing to do. On a recent survey of business websites, including those of Fortune 500 companies, I commonly found core values like honesty and integrity. Not a single website suggested that the company told the truth only part of the time. Continue reading Doing the Right Thing – A Practical Guide

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?

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

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.

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

Accountability – Path of the Honorable Leader

Greetings Leaders!

This is the 15th posting in the series The Path of the Honorable Leader.

Accountability. Holding others and self to be responsible for one’s actions. The Honorable Leader knows that there are no excuses. That whatever we do, we are responsible for the results. If we can take credit for the good, we should also be willing to take credit for the not so good, or sometimes, the bad. To hold people accountable means to love them enough to hold them responsible for their actions. Much like we teach our children the to be responsible for what they do, the Honorable Leader knows that this is something we should continue doing as adults. By holding others accountable, we build the framework for growth. That a lack of accountability leads to reckless actions, pain, setbacks, and a life of mediocrity.

Holding others accountable is hard. To tell someone they missed the mark, while encouraging them to do better, takes time and energy. It puts the leader in a vulnerable position as he must sometimes buck against the headwind. His may be the lone voice that calls for reasonableness and accountability. Too often, leaders fail to hold others accountable. That in their quest for power, prestige and profits, they sacrifice accountability. The Honorable Leader knows better. Accountability is a cornerstone for long term growth. Accountability, while sometimes painful, is the only way to sustained progress.

As an Honorable Leader, hold others, and yourself, accountable for your actions.

All the best!
All the time!

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The Path of the Honorable Leader – Fighting for a Cause

Greetings Leaders…

2nd in the Series The Path of the Honorable Leader.

The Honorable Leader is a fighter. He fights for causes that matter. A cause is imprinted on his heart. His path is filled with challenges to overcome that will make the world a better place to live.

Continue reading The Path of the Honorable Leader – Fighting for a Cause

Debra Bowen… A Little White Lie? Am I over reacting?

Greetings Leaders!

I was driving to my favorite Starbucks this morning when I heard a short story on the number of measures that might be on the ballot this coming year in California. There are about 80 measures that special interest groups are promoting, and to get the measures on the ballot they each have to get 433,971 verified signatures of registered voters.

Debra Bowen, California’s Secretary of State, is urging caution on the voters when it comes to signing these ballots. She said that no one should be pressured into signing something they don’t agree with and that voters need to ensure they understand what they are signing before signing a petition. So far… so good.

I then cringed when Debra gave suggestions on how to avoid people who are trying to get your signature when you don’t want to give it. Continue reading Debra Bowen… A Little White Lie? Am I over reacting?

Are Layoffs Immoral?

Greetings Leaders!

I recently read Wally Bock’s blog where he commented on Bob Sutton’s blog on a NY Times article written by Randy Cohen titled, “When Layoffs Are Immoral“. The article and the responses were thought povoking to say the least, and I wanted to add another perspective.

Randy Cohen raised some very interesting points that I wanted to discuss individually.

Randy’s comment: Pay cuts can be instituted company-wide, with the deepest reserved for the highest paid (that is, those most able to endure them).

Response: While I make a six figure income, I don’t consider myself rich. My wife decided a long time ago that she wanted to raise our kids and hasn’t worked full time for over 20 years. Yes, it was our decision, no excuses there. But, Randy incorrectly surmises that just because someone makes a good income, that he or she can take a hit more easily than someone who makes less.

People making $100,000 have the same challenges as that of someone making $50,000. We live in a modest house in a high cost area (California), don’t have HD TV or a DVR, don’t own a boat or a second house, don’t have great health insurance, haven’t been on a cruise, don’t smoke, don’t have an IPhone, don’t have a pool, don’t have paid vacation at work, don’t have matching 401K. So although I make what most would consider a “good” income, I still struggle to put aside enough money to have some fun and provide for our retirement. According to Randy’s definition, I can more easily absorb a pay cut than someone making $50,000. While his logic holds true for the super rich, the majority of people at a company are all in the same boat. To make the blanket claim that someone making more money can more easily absorb the hit – just doesn’t hold up in most cases.

Conclusion: Everyone has different circumstances, and I don’t think it wise to base pay cut decisions on a broad assumption.

Randy’s comment: Although the law limits the duties employers have to employees, ethics sets a different standard. Caterpillar’s workers have existed for years — sometimes generations — in profound dependence on the company. (No work, no food.) In accepting and profiting from this relationship, Caterpillar (i.e., its stockholders) incurs moral obligations to those workers.

Response: I understand Randy’s point, but – why are the stockholders morally obligated to help someone take care of themselves in this situation? I understand helping the poor, the needy, the disadvantaged. However, why do the stockholders in Caterpillar have an obligation to take care of its workers in hard times? We forget that the stockholders are basically the same people as those that work at Caterpillar. The stockholders are workers at other companies, investing their money in Caterpillar to earn a return on their investment. These stockholders are retirement funds, counties, cities, other institutions looking for a place to earn income on their hard earned money. People, just like those at Caterpillar.

As employees, people need to understand that they made a choice to work for a certain company or organization and that the company has no obligation to them, except to pay them a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

I believe the layoff itself is neither immoral or moral, but a business decision.

Having said that the layoff itself is not a question of morals, a company is morally obligated to take care of its employees when it has to go through layoffs to survive. This is the reason we need good leaders. Good leaders know that it is their responsibility to do everything they can, to assist those being laid off. Good leaders will look for ways to provide extended benefits and to reduce the pain that layoffs can bring about. Unfortunately, companies going through a layoff, usually have poor leaders, resulting in bad treatment of its employees during a layoff.

We need more good leaders running our companies.

Lead With Honor!

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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,

Honor Role – McKay Hatch – 16 Year Old Leader


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).


  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.


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

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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!