On Management

Dec. 21, 2004
Leaders who "do the right thing" are unsung heroes.

I almost hate to read the headlines in the popular news media. What has happened to our sense of shame in this country? Is there no such thing as a person taking responsibility for his or her actions anymore? Must everyone try to lay the blame on some inane technicality -- or on someone else? It seems that few are immune from this plague. Our President and Vice President run for their political lives from numerous and disturbing allegations. Our business leaders are deposed because of questionable actions. Sexual harassment charges caused shakeups at two prominent multinational companies. Other companies, desperately dancing to the tune of the Wall Street analysts' magic flute, are found to have shipped goods that don't exist -- or to locations that aren't there -- just to "make the numbers" for the quarter. Consultant/authors send their staffers out to buy their books at just the right bookstores to vault them to the top of the bestseller lists -- and then charge five-digit fees to speak on their pet topics. Basketball stars flaunt their deviant behavior and prosper from it. Labor leaders beat their breasts for the welfare and rights of the rank-and-file and then illegally divert funds to assure their continued election. It is enough to make a normal, moderately flawed, fallible human being want to vomit! What kinds of lessons, what kinds of examples, what kinds of role models are we providing for our youth? I, for one, am glad my children are grown and exercising their own mature good judgment. However, I fear for our grandchildren. But wait! Let's not condemn the innocent along with the guilty. Many of our leaders are honest, respectable people trying to succeed and lead their organizations in the right direction. Some of them reside in Washington, D.C.; others in our statehouses or in the headquarters of successful corporations. But these people are not considered newsworthy. Making an honest profit, passing sound legislation, or administering programs efficiently are meritorious, but not the stuff of headlines. But do something really despicable, and you can become instantly famous -- and profit handsomely from the book, TV, or movie rights if the story is sensational enough! It is time for values, personal responsibility, and ethics to become priorities again. And it starts with you and me. Actor Jim Carrey made what was certainly the best message movie of his career (not much of a contest after his first few) in the movie Liar, Liar. In the film, Carrey's son wishes that his lawyer father would have to tell the truth for one whole day. His wish comes true and it turns out to be a wild day, thanks in part to Carrey's histrionics. I suspect that few of us would fare much better than he did when it comes to telling "white lies" to avoid hurting people's feelings or disclosing facts better left unrevealed. But one message comes through loud and clear: The truth may set you free, but you will suffer mightily for being totally truthful. It is clear that workers can see through managers who constantly lie, or bend the truth extensively and then regularly fail to keep promises. Such leaders soon lose their followers -- as they should. It has been happening inside some of America's best-known and once-most-admired companies. And when good people leave, sales, profits, and -- eventually -- the almighty stock price go south. Values are coming back into style. And as that happens, good role models will begin to get the recognition they deserve -- from the people who work with and around them. John Mariotti is president of The Enterprise Group, Knoxville, and author of The Shape Shifters: Continuous Change for Competitive Advantage. His e-mail address is: [email protected].

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