Oh, how I wish Andrew Shepard was a candidate for the 2016 presidential election. Remember him? The American President? He wasn’t a perfect man, but you grew to trust that he had the country’s best interest top of mind. His opponent demeaned his character because he fell in love with a lobbyist while he maintained excellent leadership qualities. True, that could be dicey since she could hold great influence over him. But he took the high road, at the risk of losing her, because he believed in doing what was right for the country.
Andrew Shepard defines the Presidency as “entirely about character.” Kind of gives you chills, doesn’t it?
The April 2015 Harvard Business Review edition has a short, but compelling report on a recent study of leadership, “Measuring the return on character.” Minneapolis-based KRW Consultancy found that “CEOs whose employees gave them high marks for character had an average return on assets of 9.35% over a two-year period….nearly five times as much as those with low character ratings.”
To measure character, the researchers gleaned four moral principles from anthropological studies of behaviors recognized in all societies. These principles are integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. Then, they surveyed 84 US companies’ employees, asking about the CEO’s behavior on the four principles. The revelations of the study should make anyone sit up and take notice.
The bottom line – those lowest scoring CEOs in the study were self-centered, operating from the perspective of their own gain rather than for the greater good of the organization.
Could it be that those low scoring CEOs also considered themselves above the policies and regulations for which they held their employees accountable?
Let’s take a simple example – parking.
You can tell a lot about an organization’s culture by looking at the reserved parking spaces at the headquarters building. Closest to the door are usually visitor and disabled spaces. Often, there are reserved spaces with the titles of the company’s officers in descending order.
One could argue that they need quick access to their cars so that they can attend meetings and not lose valuable time. I suppose that makes sense.
Let’s take office space.
I once worked in a company that relocated their headquarters building, and the CEO mandated that office space be functional and standard across the organization – even the business unit presidents’ offices would be of the standard size.
On moving day, we walked around the building acquainting ourselves where different parts of the company were located. Then we passed the CEO’s suite. The mandated standard carpeting and bright colors throughout were a stark contrast to the soothing and muted plush carpet, polished furniture and lighted pieces of artwork. So much for mandated standardization.
One could argue that his office needed to reflect the financial strength of the organization to any visitors. I suppose that makes sense.
Let’s move on to performance reviews
This is arguably a process that should improve performance throughout the organization, otherwise why would a company allow their leaders and employees to spend that much time on a process that doesn’t yield results.
Ah, but how many CEOs actually participate in the process they require of their subordinate leaders? Their direct reports are executives who do not need feedback. They do not have time to go through the process. The performance management program seems stiff and irrelevant. I suppose those are decent reasons.
I am Above the Policy
According to the news anchors, the State Department has two policies that Hillary Clinton did not follow, when she led the organization.
The first is to use government email for government correspondence. I haven’t seen the actual regulation but it would be difficult for me to believe that, when Barak Obama was required to give up his personal blackberry when he became President, the government technology gurus would not apply such a policy, if not for oversight, then for security.
The State Department deals with confidential and potentially damaging dialogue relating to international alliances and enemies. Of course, any communication needs to be secure.
And then there is that pesky oversight thing – should our leaders be subject to oversight, or be allowed to behave without question or debate?
The second policy was that anyone leaving employment in the State Department had to sign a document stating that they turned over all government material. It took the White House Press Secretary four days to finally arrive at the conclusion that Hillary did not sign the document. But….neither did Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell. Well, that certainly lets Hillary off the hook.
Had she signed the document, she could have been liable for perjury. Now, we are in a he said/she said debate over character, which is much easier to rationalize.
Are Leaders Exempt?
Having a reserved parking spot – no big deal. It just creates an illusion for the employee population of hierarchy.
Not following policies that are ostensibly policies that you, as the leader, sign and endorse? I am not so ready to rationalize this one.
Our Secret Weapon
I suggest that the oversight provided by our constitutional structure is our country’s secret weapon. I recently read Russians: the people behind the power, by Gregory Feifer and Inside ISIS by Benjamin Hall. Both books are terrifying, with insiders telling horrific stories of a culture that is more like the evil side of a fairy tale, than of anything I have ever encountered. They scare me.
There is one commonality that struck me about both entities. There is no recourse when the governing people do something wrong. There is no real oversight, and there are no consequences.
In Russia, people who disagree with the power base disappear: proof that corruption is rampant, business people pay bribes in order to stay in business, and oligarchs who veer off course are suddenly freezing in Siberia. This is not sensationalist rumor. The author of the book spent 10 years as an NPR correspondent in Russia, watching and talking to people at all levels and classes.
I do not think, though, that Russia has stooped to public beatings and stoning, the severing of hands or the enslavement of girls. This is the ISIS that Benjamin Hall describes. Also a journalist embedded in the Middle East for almost a decade, Hall paints a frightening picture of “morality police” patrolling neighborhoods and businesses and individuals subject to extortion.
Both pictures place power over values. Both countries lack a common barometer of right and wrong for the greater good. Neither population has any government recourse to challenge the power structure for fear of banishment or worse.
This is what scares me.
We Cannot Lose Uur Values, we Must Enhance Our Leadership Qualities
The United States has flaws. We are not perfect. But we do have checks and balances that keep us honest. Those checks and balances are based on the greater good, not personal gain.
We must preserve character as a premier value of our leaders, or I worry that we will slowly lose our focus on the greater good.
What would I like to see?
It would be so refreshing to see/hear
- Yes, I made a mistake
- I am accountable for the actions of those I lead
- We need to carefully explore all sides, and then make a decision that benefits the country
- “They” have a different opinion than “we” do but we should explore what’s good about their opinion before immediately discarding it
- I believe in this country
- We want the most qualified individual, not the most entitled
- There is nothing wrong with hard work; it builds character
- We are in this together
Oh, I could go on and on. What would you find refreshing to hear from our leaders?
I would love to be able to trust the character of those who lead.