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Drawing the ethical line

The sporting world is one you can never ignore as a coach. When asked about their experiences of coaching, many employees will relate quickly to their sports coach, running along the sidelines shouting instructions. And while that’s not what ‘coaching’ is, the leadership coach is trying to do the same thing; support the executive to improve their performance and be the best they can be.

And then there are drugs. Already we’ve had Lance Armstrong tell Oprah that he did indeed take drugs, whilst in our part of the world we’ve got the unravelling of drugs in sport in Australia, and only last weekend we had the boxer Francois Botha say that SBW’s team were cheating by cutting two rounds out of the fight, but later he failed a drug test.

I’m not aware of there being a drug that improves leadership (unless coaching is a drug) but given the sporting world’s example, I wonder how widely it would be used if there was? And how it would be justified. Lance Armstrong seemed to say that he wasn’t cheating because everyone else was taking drugs too.  No doubt similar responses will come out in Australian sport, because we humans have an uncanny capacity to justify things in our minds. Many of us that stand outside of sport are horrified by the lack of ‘ ethics’ or ‘morals’ of the people that take drugs, and can’t understand those who justify it. But not all of us.

When you are inside an environment where something is done frequently it becomes normal and nobody questions it. The ones that do are later called leaders, because they stood up, spoke out, said it was wrong, were pilloried for doing so, until more voices joined them and what was previously normal becomes unacceptable.

That’s what leaders do. They provide guidance, a moral compass, they set standards and ‘raise the bar’, they have values they believe in and live by and they set the tone for their business, division or team. Their actions let everyone else know what is acceptable, and they become role models for their younger managers, who copy their actions, adopt those standards and replicate them around the business.

So if there was a leadership drug, would you take it? No real side effects, just a small inhalation every day that enhanced your decision-making capability, increased your ability to find tactical advantage, helped you process at four times normal speed and exude charisma that meant people couldn’t help but follow you and believe everything you say.

Nothing wrong with that is there? Would you take it?No?

And if your organisation said it was part of your contract? Would you stay and take it ‘because it can’t be bad if my boss says it’s ok?’ or ‘I need the salary, so I have to do this for my family’. And if you found other managers you know taking it, and getting better bonuses, and quicker promotions, would you still hold out and not take it?

Maybe it’s easy to say no here because I’ve postulated a drug that doesn’t exist.

But all around the world leaders succumb to things that give them advantage; information from ‘sources’ that help win tenders, insider trading, putting horsemeat in beef burgers, Ponzi schemes and complicated finance schemes that cause global financial meltdown.

‘Leaders’ were and are involved in all of those things. You could say that they weren’t true leaders as they didn’t stop things that were wrong, stand up for ethical and moral standards and resign from positions and organisations where that was expected.

You could say that, but as a leader reading this, maybe the more important question is, do you know what you stand for? Do you know where your ethical and moral lines in the sand are? Do you express these clearly and simply for those in your team?  Do you speak out when others in your organisation breach these? Are you a leader by example?


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