Leadership and the Ethics Imperative

It’s one thing to achieve outstanding results. It’s another thing to do so ethically, especially when others are cutting corners. Operating ethically is the second imperative of what we call “triple crown leadership” (excellent, ethical, and enduring). To us, “ethical” means acting in accordance with accepted principles of right and wrong: acting with integrity. Leaders … Read more

The Importance of Integrity in Leadership

Leadership involves so many difficult challenges and exceptional behaviors and mindsets. These days, we ask much of our leaders. When I ask workers to quickly name the qualities that arise in their minds when they hear the word “leader,” I am instantly assaulted by a barrage of words: vision, charisma, confidence, clarity, responsibility, results, judgment, emotional … Read more

The Importance of Trust in Leadership

There are many ways to think about leadership. For some, as we have seen, it is about control or power. For others, it is about achievement or recognition. For others, thankfully, it is about people and service, along with higher purpose and positive impact. Since leadership by definition involves a relationship between leaders and followers—and, more … Read more

The Importance of Credibility in Leadership

Credibility: the quality of being worthy of belief and trust Credibility, which flows from character and competence, is one of the most essential aspects of leadership. High credibility is a tremendous asset for leaders seeking to achieve exceptional performance and positive impacts. Low credibility is devastating. Credible leaders are straight with people, even about hard … Read more

The Root Cause of Ethical Failings (and Our Political Dysfunction)

Scandals. Fraud. Abuse of power. Greed. Corruption. Tax evasion. Coverups. Once rare occurrences, coming back to haunt us every decade or so, these are now front and center in our daily lives and our daily news cycle. We see them in government, in business, and even in nonprofits and some religious organizations. It seems as … Read more

The Trust Imperative

Building trust is an imperative to creating a better world. Through my work advocating ethical and values-based leadership, I sometimes see eyes glaze over. “Whose values?” people wonder. “How do you define what’s ethical?” “Can we really act morally in this rough-and-tumble world?” Fair questions from people trying to survive in a tough, competitive environment. … Read more

The Ethical Challenges Faced by Leaders

Ethics Right Wrong

 “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. … Read more

The Dangers of Toxic Micro-Cultures

Leadership authors and speakers, Bob and Gregg Vanourek, use this picture of business people in gas masks to show the idea of toxicity in the work place.

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 … Read more

Why Boards Should Pay Attention to Corporate Culture

“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 … Read more

A New, Overarching Goal for Boards

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 … Read more

The Triple Crown of Leadership

Leadership writers and speakers Bob and Gregg Vanourek use a picture of Secretariat to show the accomplishment and difficulty of becoming a triple crown leader.

The sports world is abuzz with excitement. We may have our first Triple Crown winner since 1978, when Affirmed captured what has been called “the most elusive championship” in all of sports. California Chrome is poised to accomplish this incredible feat on June 7 if he can win at Belmont Park. This unlikely horse, bred … Read more

Rationalizations that Derail Leadership

Author and Leadership Speakers Bob Vanourek and Greg Vanourek use a train that has run off the tracks to show how rationalizations can adversely affect leadership abilities.

“The softest pillow is a clear conscience.” –Narayana Murthy, Co-founder and former CEO, Infosys Our ability to rationalize our behavior is astonishing. And dangerous. Basically, we all have a good sense of what’s right or wrong, but we have an inherent ability to talk ourselves into believing that something that’s wrong is really okay. We’re … Read more

The Role of Values for Leaders & Organizations

Our colleague in leadership,  Harvey Kaufman, edited down one of his longer pieces on alignment so that we might share some of his wisdom and insight here. A few years ago, I attended a Corporate Social Responsibility conference.  As you might expect (although I didn’t) a major focus of the conference was how to market social responsibility efforts to … Read more

Three Responsibilities of Great Leadership

Great leadership has many responsibilities: Safeguarding your colleagues Serving your stakeholders Making tough decisions Planning for succession And much more However, certain responsibilities are critically important and do not get the time and attention they deserve. Here are three. 1) Commit to the triple crown quest of building an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization. The primary … Read more

Ethical Decision-Making: Simple Tests

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 … Read more

Ethical Pitfalls—You Will Be Tested

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 … Read more

What to Do If You Work For a Jerk

So your boss is a jerk.  What to do? Of course, how to approach it depends on the severity of the situation, but here are some tips: 1. Go Lean. You may have to make a change, so you need money in the bank. That’s not tapping into your 401k or IRA. You need six … Read more

Bending the Focus of a Company

Interview with Harvey Wagner, Former CEO, Quovadx 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 … Read more

Value and Values

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, … Read more

What’s So Hard About Ethics?

  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.  … Read more

A Tireless Focus on Excellence

Interview with Steven Rothstein  President, Perkins School for the Blind Leaders Speak Series  Founded in 1829, Perkins School for the Blind operates in more than sixty countries with revenue of over $50 million. It offers free audio, Braille and large print books, and hundreds of newspapers by phone. The operations are complex, including a school, … Read more

How to Make Good Leadership Decisions

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 … Read more

How to Build a Culture of Character

Culture is simply “how we do things here,” a set of beliefs and habits that influence how people behave. Culture forms over time and determines what happens when authorities are not present, setting the tone for the organization and the norms for acceptable behavior. Lou Gerstner, after his spectacular turnaround of IBM, wrote, “…culture isn’t … Read more

Do What’s Right

Interview with Four-Star General Jack Chain  Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Air Command Leaders Speak Series The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was responsible for America’s land-based strategic bombers and nuclear, intercontinental ballistic missiles from 1946 to 1992. General Jack Chain was Commander-in-Chief of SAC from 1986 to 1991. Here are excerpts of our interview with him for … Read more

Translating Mission & Values into Results

Interview with Bill George  Harvard Business School Professor and   Former CEO, Medtronic  Leaders Speak Series  Bill George was the COO, then CEO and Chairman, of Medtronic from 1989 through 2002, the years when annual revenue increased an average 18% and earnings increased 22%. A host of innovative products were introduced during this time, and the … Read more

No Jerks Allowed

“You know what a jerk is when you see it.” -Bob Diamond, Former CEO of Barclays Bank (Source: The Guardian)   As CEO, Bob Diamond terminated 30 Barclays Bank staff in 2011 for breaking his “no jerks” rule. Diamond said six staff, who ran up a £44,000 lunch tab in London, epitomized “jerk” bankers. He said … Read more

Interview with Kit Crawford, Clif Bar

“Sustainable Leadership” Interview with Kit Crawford Co-Owner and Co-CEO, Clif Bar & Company Leaders Speak Series Clif Bar & Company is a privately held, family- and employee- owned company, creating nutritious and organic food for people-on-the-go. It has achieved double-digit annual revenue growth and won a long list of employment, diversity, and sustainability awards, including … Read more

Interview with Dr. Dan Sweeney

“Breakdowns and Trans-Generational Culture” Interview with Dr. Dan Sweeney, Director, Institute for Enterprise Ethics, University of Denver Leaders Speak Series Why do so many organizations break down? In recent years, some major corporations have had breakdowns and made significant missteps (e.g., BP, Johnson & Johnson, and Toyota). We interviewed Dr. Dan Sweeney, Director of the … Read more

Bucket Filler or Bucket Dipper?

Jack & Ben with Triple Crown

“Sprinkle Joy.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson Jack, Bob’s seven year-old grandson and Gregg’s nephew, came home from school recently talking about buckets. In this metaphor, we all carry invisible buckets holding our feelings and sense of worth. When our buckets are full, we feel good. When empty, we feel sad. A bucket filler fills the buckets … Read more

Whistleblowers–Reframing Their Role

Whistleblowers play an important role in divulging ethical breaches, but we must reframe their role in order to preserve the ethical imperative in organizations. Unethical behavior is rampant nowadays. We see it across the board. We see it in business (e.g., Walmart bribery scandal, LIBOR scandal, Peregrine scandal, and many more); in universities (Harvard, Penn … Read more

Your Leadership Legacy

What will your legacy be? In the age of Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, and tablets–of endless emails and ceaseless connecting–how rare it is to stop and think about that question. How rare it is to stick to the long game and not get caught up in short-termism. How rare it is to look to the far … Read more

Suicide by Quarter–Leading for the Short-Term

Have you ever: Told one of your line managers to “do whatever it takes to make your numbers this quarter”? Pulled sales from next quarter to make this quarter’s numbers? Cut into critical R&D funds to hit Wall Street forecasts? Asked the CFO to lower the reserves for future expenses to help earnings this quarter? … Read more

The End of Leadership?

Barbara Kellerman and Jim O’Toole, two leadership experts we respect, are ticked off about the failures in leadership we witness virtually every day. (See “Mad About Leadership” in Strategy+Business, June 2012). Think of all the leadership-related scandals recently: Recent Leadership Hall of Shame Barclays Bear Stearns BP Countrywide Financial Galleon Group GlaxoSmithKline Goldman Sachs Johnson … Read more

Choose Your Friends and Colleagues Wisely

Rajat Gupta’s storybook life has taken a dark turn. An orphan from Kolkata, India, Gupta moved to the U.S. to attend Harvard Business School on a scholarship. He ascended to the top (Managing Director) of McKinsey, one of the world’s most prestigious consulting companies, and advised the world’s elite. After retiring, he joined the boards … Read more

A Call for Better Leadership

Is it just us, or are we bombarded by negative news? •    NewsCorp scandal and cover-up •    A Goldman Sachs exec resigning in disgust in an op-ed read around the world •    Walmart corruption in Mexico •    Hyperpartisanship and focusing on scoring political points instead of solving real problems What do all these negatives have … Read more