Corporate Ethics, Intentionality & Emotional IntelligenceBy: Susan Dunn
My granddaughter is 5. Last time she smacked her little brother and I had words with her, she said, “I didn’t mean to hit him.” A preposterous statement since I’d seen her walk over, pick up a book and whack him with it. But then she’s only 5.
It continued, as I comforted both the offended and the offender.
“You hurt him,” I said. “Look, Jamie’s crying.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” she said.
Intentionality is a high-level emotional intelligence competency. It means saying what you mean and meaning what you say, staying focused and avoiding distractions until you accomplish your goal, and, the hardest part, being accountable for your motives.
When you’re 5 and do something wrong, and deny your motives, it’s to be expected. Heck, they’ll even deny they did it. “What cookie?” they say, with chocolate all over their face. But what about when you’re an adult?
First let’s take a look at my role in this scenario. Stop for a minute and answer this question: What was my job?
Here’s what I think my job is:
Or corporate America?
In an article called “What Leaders Need to Do to Restore Investor Confidence,” Harvard Business School professor Thomas R. Piper is interviewed. (hbswk.hbs.edu/pubitem.jhtml?id=3126&sid=0&pid=0&t=leadership) The article is subtitled, “Where corporate ethics are concerned, the buck stops with the CEO.”
Q: While we're on the subject of responsibility, do you buy it when a CEO says, "I didn't know," about questionable practices?
A: I think the strategy of deniability is a very dangerous one to allow to stand. A CEO should understand what's going on in the organization. A company's financial systems are so powerful in communicating what that company stands for—they're not just neutral mechanisms. They tie into compensation and performance evaluation systems, so for a CEO to say, "I didn't know," I think is quite unacceptable. I think either the person intentionally didn't know or, alternatively, wasn't doing the job.
The tie-in is that the CEO’s job description is to know what’s going on and to care about it. Piper then goes on to stress that whatever policies are in place, if they’re just given ‘lip service,’ and behaviors of leaders indicate this, the purpose is defeated. You must “talk the talk AND walk the walk.” Ethics are taught daily, he says, “through the actions and the silence of leadership.”
Can you teach ethics? I would propose that you can’t not teach them. As the saying goes, “you’re being watched.”
Now let’s go back to the Brother-Smacking Incident that occurred under my watch as CEO of the household. I was tired when my granddaughter hit her brother, and busy cooking. I was tempted to ignore the whole thing and pretend we both didn’t know I’d seen her do it. This would’ve taught her that I didn’t care what she did and I didn’t back up my no-hitting policy. She could hit him when I was tired, or cooking, or not in the room. It was worth a shot at any time. She’d figure it out; kids always do. I would’ve given her tacit permission to disregard the rules.
It’s also my job to care enough, continually, to know what’s going on, wouldn’t you agree?
The interview ends with Piper saying, “The issue is not whether or not ethics can be taught, it’s whether the ethics we’re teaching through our actions reflect the ethics that we intend to teach.”
As Emerson said, “Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”
It’s your shop. How do you intend for it to be?
© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2003
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