Welcome to the Vital Integrities Blog

The Enron Factor

Imagine that you're standing on a street corner, waiting for the stoplight to turn green so you can cross. You're in a hurry. There's no traffic coming, so you could make it across safely. You consider the ethical dilemma: should you cross against the red light so you can get where you're going faster, or should you wait and obey the law. Then, another pedestrian comes along and crosses on red. Seeing that, you cross, too.

Did the other person's aberrant behavior influence you to break the rules? That's a question Malcolm Gladwell raises in his wonderful book, The Tipping Point. Gladwell suggests that people leaning toward a certain bad behavior look for "permission" from others who demonstrate that conduct. For instance, Gladwell points out that suicide rates increase immediately following a highly publicized suicide. Case in point: the national suicide rate increased 12 percent in the period right after Marilyn Monroe's death.

With a jury now seated in the trial of Enron's former Board Chair Ken Lay and Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling, I can't help wondering how many recent corporate scandals resulted from the publicity surrounding this case. Did Enron's alleged behavior grant approval to those corporate leaders who were already tempted to fudge the numbers? Or, to use Gladwell's concept, did Enron create an "epidemic" of bad corporate behavior?

As leaders, we must be aware of how much we influence the behavior of others. Not long ago, I stood on a corner, anxious to cross although the light was red. Just as I prepared to step off the curb, I looked back and saw two young children waiting behind me. The we'll-go-if-you-go looks on their faces reminded me of my grownup responsibility to set a good example. So I waited. Like those youngsters, your employees are watching to see how you behave. Be sure to live by the you profess.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment
Vital Integrities Blog - Blogged