It is quite clear that America is in the midst of a financial and business crisis, the likes of which may never have been seen before. Entire industries are teetering on the verge of collapse. Great icons of American business – General Motors, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Hartford, Citicorp, AIG and many others – have either drowned in this convulsive financial sea or appear ready to go down for the third time. Almost every day a new story of individual fraud and greed emerges of which the likes of Blagojevich, Petters and Madoff are just the most recent poster boys.
At first blush there is a natural tendency to believe that the root of these problems stems from a lack of leadership and leave it at that. But such an assumption is too simple and reveals only part of the story. The reality is that the heads of these failing companies along with the perpetrators of government and business frauds are very strong leaders. In fact, they would not have been in position to make such bad business judgments or commit such crimes had they not possessed strong leadership skills.
It’s not leadership skills that are missing; rather it’s the marriage of ethics and leadership skills that appear virtually nonexistent. If you go to the heart of the current business or government problems what you will find missing in the equation is the combination of ethics and leadership. Leadership without ethics is like giving weapons of mass destruction to a terrorist. It is a recipe for disaster.
In this context, ethical leadership goes beyond lying, cheating and stealing. Anyone can recognize the lack of moral ethics in the actions of a Blagojevich or Madoff. What is more difficult to recognize is a deeper, even more sinister lack of ethical leadership. True ethical leadership is simple. It is the knowledge of, and the ability to lead others, to always do the right thing.
Legal vs. Ethical
The leaders of Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG did not set out to do anything illegal or even immoral. Many of them would probably describe and pride themselves on being highly ethical. However, they either did not know or forgot that ethical leadership goes well beyond doing what is legal and encompasses the broader, more humane concept of doing what is right.
It was not illegal for AIG to sell “credit default swaps,” but it was unethical, because it was not the right thing to do. It was not illegal to make subprime mortgages, but it was unethical, because it was neither fair nor just for the company or the borrowers. It was not illegal for executives to give themselves hundreds of millions in bonuses, but it was unethical, because it was not equitable for all.
The alarming lack of ethical leadership in America brings us to the essence of this posting. There are many well-intended programs designed to teach ethics in the sense of not lying, cheating and stealing, and there are untold classes, programs and institutes designed to instill leadership skills. However, there are few if any programs that seek to unite the broad concept of ethics with leadership. That is about to change.
Hope for the Future
There is a new group called, Maggie’s Imagination Farm that is about to launch an effort to teach the concept of ethical leadership to future business and government leaders. I am pleased that I have been asked to consult and contribute to the efforts of this group.
Maggie’s Imagination Farm has joined with popular PGA golfer Tim “Lumpy” Herron to launch the “Lil’ Lumpy Ethical Leadership Initiative. The program will be launched with a 3D animated, educational DVD series focused on teaching young people (and maybe even older ones as well) the philosophy and techniques they will need to become effective ethical leaders in the future.
With its reputation for high ethics and individual effort, the game of golf was chosen as the learning vehicle. In each of 18 episodes Lil’ Lumpy will be presented with and overcome incredible hazards presented by the most outlandishly designed golf courses located in places like Antarctica, Neptune and the deepest jungles of South America. The Lil’ Lumpy series will teach 18 different ethical leadership traits, including “Creating Trust,” “Building Parallel Interests,” and “Never fearing to do the right thing.”
The long-range plan is to develop additional programs, seminars and even camps that will instill the concept of ethical leadership in the minds and actions of future leaders. Maggie’s Imagination Farm seeks to target schools, churches, youth groups, parents and grandparents. In effect, anyone or any group that is interested in seeing that the future business and government leaders understand and practice the concept of ethical leadership.
Maggie’s Imagination Farm is seeking contact with potential sponsors and others who wish to help broaden the initiative of ethical leadership. If you would like to assist the effort or if you just want more information, I encourage you to go to http://www.lillumpy.com to explore the opportunity. You will even be able to view a sample of one of the DVD lessons.
America will continue to face many perplexing challenges at home and in the global economy and we will be in a better position to meet them if we build future generations of ethical leaders. Maggie’s Imagination Farm is a good start.