Triple Crown Leadership

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Tag Archives: Ethical Leadership

A Leadership Lightning Bolt

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by Bob Vanourek Early in my leadership quest to “find a better way to lead,” I had the wonderful pleasure to work for Jan and Olga Erteszak, Polish immigrants who had fled the Nazis in Europe and then founded a ladies’ lingerie company in Los Angeles. The Olga Company was the creative leader in this industry, designing and producing fashionable lingerie, sleepwear, and loungewear. I learned so much about creativity from Jan and Olga because we literally practiced creativity in meetings. What fun as we stretched our imaginations. One memorable day, Jan, with a wink and that crooked smile of his, gave me some pamphlets to read written by Robert Greenleaf. Knowing my burning interest in leadership, Jan quipped, “I think you’ll find these interesting.” The message was ages old   …Continue Reading


The Ethical Challenges Faced by Leaders

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  Image credit: Public Domain  “Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique.” -James MacGregor Burns We all face ethical challenges and dilemmas, and all the more so if we lead. Think how you would act in the following scenarios: You give the cashier a $10 bill, and she gives you change for a $20. You realize it in the parking lot. Do you trudge back and give her the money? You incur some personal charges on a business trip. Do you fudge some expenses to help cover these costs? Do you overestimate your charitable contributions on your tax form to minimize your reported profit and taxes. Your boss asks you to cover for him with some false excuse while he is absent from work   …Continue Reading


The Good News About Leadership

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  “For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use to be anything else.” -Winston Churchill   With all the leadership scandals and breakdowns in virtually every segment of society bombarding us day-in and day-out, it is easy to become cynical about our leaders today. Yet we’re cautiously optimistic despite the massive challenges we face.   Leaders acknowledge reality, and we don’t avoid the disheartening, even outrageous, leadership failures we come across. (You don’t need another list of them, do you?)   “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality,”   -Jim Collins, in Good to Great,   …Continue Reading


Governance Guidelines for Corporate Boards

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   Image credit: iStock “If you have leadership without governance,  you risk tyranny, fraud and personal fiefdoms. If you have governance without leadership,  you risk atrophy, bureaucracy and indifference.” – Mark Goyder, Founder Director, Tomorrow’s Company   With so many corporate scandals in recent decades, much focus has been placed on upgrading corporate governance practices, and rightly so. In my (Bob’s) experience, most large corporations have given careful thought to their governance guidelines. Google, a firm we admire (see “Snapshots” on pages 238-242 of Triple Crown Leadership), has a nice set of governance guidelines. IBM has a nice set too. But most smaller and mid-sized corporations need some additional guidance in this area. (Perhaps some of the larger firms would appreciate some fresh thinking too?) Consequently, I created an Outline   …Continue Reading


The Dangers of Toxic Micro-Cultures

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Image credit: Painting by Leah Saulnier www.paintingmaniac.com   Does your organization have some toxic micro-cultures? If so, you ignore them at your peril. Much is written these days about the importance of culture in boosting an organization’s success. Strategy is important, as are talent, business models, innovation, and more. But culture, “how we do things here,” as we like to define it, can be the trump card, because it permeates everything in an organization. Culture is what people do when the boss is not around. Wise leaders craft the culture purposefully and make the desired behaviors explicit and clear. Culture can have a big impact on whether people act ethically, honorably, and responsibly. For example, when direct supervisors were observed to behave unethically: 42% of employees felt pressure to behave   …Continue Reading


Why Boards Should Pay Attention to Corporate Culture

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“Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.” Lou Gerstner, former IBM CEO   Most boards think “culture” is the soft, fuzzy stuff that some CEO’s or HR leaders may pay attention to. These boards are sadly wrong. A high-performing, ethical culture can be a great source of competitive advantage. An organization’s culture is “how we do things here”—how people behave in their relationships. Business is a set of relationships, and healthy relationships are built in trust. Organizations with a toxic culture pay a heavy price in lost revenue, damaged reputation, lawsuits, and more. By contrast, organizations with a high-performance, trust-based culture (e.g., Southwest Airlines, Zappos.com, and Patagonia) enjoy a self-reinforcing, virtuous cycle with their stakeholders. They build trust and employees unleash more of their talents and   …Continue Reading


A New, Overarching Goal for Boards

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One of the painful results of boards embracing the goal to “maximize shareholder value” is shown in the Edelman Trust Barometer: Only 53% of respondents trust business Only 18% of the general population trust business leaders to tell the truth The overarching goal for corporate boards should not be to maximize shareholder value. Instead, boards should set as their primary objective to: Build an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization. Excellent means achieving extraordinary results for customers, employees, and shareholders. Ethical means achieving those results the right way, with integrity, not cutting ethical corners. Enduring means achieving those results sustainably, being conscious of the firm’s impact on the planet, and acting responsibly to ensure precious resources are not wasted. Enduring also means acting sustainably inside the firm, not burning people out, nor   …Continue Reading


Leading with Heart and Head

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 By Cristina Gair “A good heart and a good head are always a formidable combination.” Nelson Mandela — In Remembrance, 1918-2013 Students of leadership should immerse themselves in the study of leaders who embody the values and actions they want to see in the world. In college, I started studying Nelson Mandela as an inspiring leader and teacher, and I have been enamored ever since. Mandela was about love, justice, equality, education, and care for others, your community, and the global community. My heart hurts as my head remembers his lessons for leadership and life. Mandela understood the importance of the integration of heart and head. This alignment of heart and head gave him the insight to lead his country despite 10, 000 days spent in prison. In his words:   …Continue Reading


Leadership, Pushes, and Poetry

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“Come to the edge,” he said. 
 “We are afraid,” they said. 
 “Come to the edge,” he said. 
 They came to the edge, 
 He pushed them and they flew. 
 ― Guilliame Apollinaire, French poet How much should a leader push colleagues when they are afraid? Apollinaire’s lines above signal that a leader sometimes has to push people off the edge for them to discover they can fly. While a romantic notion, we take a different view. Certainly, leadership is often about moving out of a comfort zone. Management is good at driving efficiency in your existing place, even when people should be running for the hills. Leadership is about inspiring people to move to a whole new and better place, even if they are reluctant to   …Continue Reading


The Ten T’s of Trustworthy Leadership

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Guest Blog by Barbara Kimmel #1 Trustworthy leadership – A culture of trust cannot exist with an untrustworthy leader. Trustworthy behavior must start at the top and flow down through every person in an organization. Trust should not be confused with compliance. Being “legal” is not synonymous with being trustworthy. #2 Transformation – Productivity and exceptional execution begin when the CEO and leadership team synthesize a set of values and goals that are shared, accepted, and adopted by all stakeholders. #3 Tools – There are many trust tools leaders can use to build trust with their stakeholders, running the gamut from metrics and assessments to online surveys. #4 Treatment – The Golden Rule says to “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Leaders who extend trust to stakeholders are   …Continue Reading


Moral Leadership: Not Just For The Pulpit

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Guest Blog by Dr. Daniel Sweeney Most responsible students of leadership recognize the importance of organizational leadership, strategic leadership, project leadership, and other types of leadership in business organizations. But moral leadership in the workplace? That seems a bit ethereal. I would suggest moral leadership is at the core of all leadership. Moral leadership is about the stuff that is not written down anywhere. It might even not be talked about openly among the executives of the organization. Moral leadership is not about policy; it’s not about compliance; it’s not about mission statements or values statements–but it impacts all these. Moral leadership is important when people have to deal with situations no one ever expected to arise. Moral leadership is “doing the right thing” in public based on one’s personal   …Continue Reading


Ethical Decision-Making: Simple Tests

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Photo: iStock   When it comes to ethical challenges, we are all tested at some point. Leaders are tested most when they are under duress. Many leaders are ill-equipped to navigate the ethical minefields awaiting them in the swirl of fast-changing competitive markets and new technologies. Drawing insights from terrific books like Ethics (for the Real World), by Ronald Howard and Clinton Korver, and Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, by Gus Lee with Diane Elliott-Lee, here are some examples of simple tests that leaders can take before making ethical decisions:  Mirror Test. Imagine making the decision and then look at yourself in the mirror. How do you feel? What do you see in your eyes? Does it trigger alarm bells, violate your principles, or summon a guilty conscience? Front Page Test. Imagine   …Continue Reading


Ethical Pitfalls—You Will Be Tested

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Photo: iStock   No matter where you work or live, when it comes to ethics one thing is clear: you will be tested. Ethical pitfalls are all around us. Often you stumble upon them suddenly. Your ethics are tested most when you are under duress (with stress, pressure, or fear). Here is a partial list of what you’re up against: If you work in the world of business… Are you under pressure to withhold damaging information? Lowballing estimates in order to increase the chances of getting an order? “Cooking the books” to deceive analysts or investors? Paying bribes in markets where that is common or expected, reasoning that you must “pay to play”? Pulling sales from the next quarter to meet your targets for this one? Posing as a customer   …Continue Reading


Bending the Focus of a Company

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Interview with Harvey Wagner Former CEO, Quovadx Leaders Speak Series Harvey A. Wagner was the turnaround CEO of Quovadx from 2004 through 2007. Quovadx was a $100 million, NASDAQ-traded software and services company with offices in the U.S. and Europe as well as some outsourced R&D in China. Customers were in the hospital and telecommunications markets as well as large financial institutions. The company was accused of accounting improprieties, went into a tailspin, and Wagner, ultimately, was asked by the board to turn it around. Quovadx merged with a subsidiary of Battery Ventures in 2007. Wagner is currently the managing principal of H.A. Wagner Group LLC, a strategic and business consulting firm. Previously, he served as a CFO or CEO of numerous firms, including Caregiver Services, Mirant Corporation, Optio Software, PaySys International,   …Continue Reading


Value and Values

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Interview with Chip Baird Founder and Managing Director, North Castle Partners Leaders Speak Series North Castle Partners is a leading private equity firm headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut, committed to creating extraordinary value for its companies, employees, investors, and communities.  Charles (Chip) Baird, Jr., North Castle’s Managing Director, founded the firm in 1997. From 1989 to 1997, Baird served as a Managing Director of AEA Investors LLC. From 1978 to 1989, Baird was Executive Vice President at Bain & Company, an international consulting firm. From 1975 to 1977, he worked at The First Boston Corporation. Chip received an A.B. from Harvard College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Here are excerpts of our interview with Chip Baird for Triple Crown Leadership: What is North Castle Partners’ approach to private equity? Baird: North   …Continue Reading


What’s So Hard About Ethics?

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Why are ethical breakdowns in organizations so common? Why do so many good people make bad decisions?  Look at the “wall of shame” of organizations abusing trust recently: AIG, Barclays, Bear Stearns, BP, Countrywide Financial, Galleon Group, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, ING, Johnson & Johnson, Lehman Brothers, MF Global, Standard Chartered, Walmart, and many more.  It’s not just business, by the way. Look at the doping scandal in cycling (and baseball). Look at Penn State University, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Church. Look at governments around the world, from India and Italy to China, Russia, and Venezuela. And there is no shortage of scandals in Washington, D.C.  Look back a little and witness the stock options backdating scandal, then a little further to Arthur Anderson, Enron, MCI Worldcom, Global Crossing,   …Continue Reading


Why Tyco Threw Out Its Entire Board

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Interview with John Krol and Ed BreenTyco International Leaders Speak Series John Krol was elected to Tyco’s board in 2002 and served as lead director until 2008. He is the former chairman and CEO of DuPont. Edward Breen was chairman and CEO of Tyco from 2002 until September 2012, when the company separated into three public companies. Breen is currently non-executive chairman of the Tyco board. Prior to joining Tyco, Breen was president and COO of Motorola. Krol and Breen took over the leadership of Tyco International after its former CEO and CFO were jailed. The company, once a Wall Street darling, had fallen into an abyss. We interviewed them about their early leadership moves at Tyco for Triple Crown Leadership: What were the priorities when you arrived at Tyco?   …Continue Reading


How to Make Good Leadership Decisions

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From Lance Armstrong to David Petraeus, how can leaders make so many bone-headed decisions? Leaders need an easy-to-use, bulletproof test for their decision-making. We offer one here. Bob recently attended sessions at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, where Stanford Professor Joseph Grundfest led some fascinating dialogue. We extrapolated the model that follows from that interaction. It is simple, memorable, and powerful: 1. Is it legal?2. Is it ethical?3. Is it smart? Is It Legal? The minimum threshold for all decisions is “Is it legal?” Too many leaders rationalize illegal behavior: • “The chances of getting caught are so small.”• “I’m smart enough to get away with it.”• “Everybody’s doing it.”• “I deserve it.”• “It really isn’t hurting anybody.” Of course, if you are caught, you’ll wonder later how you   …Continue Reading