Is it Worth it?
In today’s world, is it worth it to be ethical? Observing human behavior, characteristics, and preferences often perplexes me. Especially these days. In today’s business culture, with buzz words like corporate compliance, governance, and ethics, it amazes me that the individuals selected as keynote speakers and organizational trainers are those people who have personally or professionally failed in these arenas. Somehow they have become the ‘experts’ that companies turn to. When is the last time you heard someone speak who, in the performance of their employment, had maintained high ethical standards and been crushed for doing so? It’s the Bernie Madoffs and Michael Milkens types who are held up as our examples, instead of the Lee Iacocca’s and Jack Welsh’s of this world.
Our fascination with those who have committed fraud, been sentenced, or worked out a plea deal, instead of those upholding ethics, is completely backwards. Even schizophrenic. Throughout this nation, in multiple industries, good and decent men and women are having their careers destroyed for maintaining high ethical standards, while those who don’t are being promoted and sought after even made wealthy for their advice.
Perhaps as a speaker, trainer, and coach it’s frustration, anger, or even bitterness causing me to express these sentiments. As the reader, you get to reach your own decision. Let me tell you my story. I didn’t commit a crime, steal anything, or go to prison. What I did do was ‘take the high road’, follow my sworn code of ethics, and enforce the law impartially. It resulted in career suicide and economic devastation.
From June 2005 to April 2012, I was the Chief of Police in a popular resort town in central Idaho without a single blemish on my professional record. In 2012, the city manager resigned and was replaced by an individual who was driving on a suspended driver’s license, a minor misdemeanor offense and easily corrected. As the chief of police, I told this individual he needed to correct the issue. Not only was it the law, but multiple visitors and citizens in the community had been arrested or cited for that exact violation. After waiting nearly seven weeks and reminding him weekly that he needed to correct the situation, I sent a report to the State Police asking them to determine if charging was appropriate. I told the gentleman (and I use the term loosely) that I had done so. Shortly thereafter, I was terminated and told he was going to ruin my career. He succeeded.
I appealed the termination to the City Council, who eventually supported the termination decision. That’s right, folks. I ‘stood up for the little guy,’ ‘equality,’ ‘ethics’ and ‘fairness.’ And the politicians supported him. When the politicians who put this man in charge of a city KNEW he was breaking the law and had lied to them, but still allowed him to fire me for even ASKING if he should have to obey the law like any average citizen. And they did so without investigating the circumstances. (Gasp!)
I filed a lawsuit and two years later, in federal court, prevailed on two separate counts of retaliation. But the damage had been done. Initially I was told no one would hire me while the lawsuit was pending. After prevailing in court, I was told I was unemployable because I sued my former employer. It didn’t matter that the municipality I had worked for since 1997 had violated the law. It didn’t matter that I did ‘what was right.’
And so, I ask, is it worth it to be ethical when unethical behavior is rewarded and esteemed?