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In The Case of PEOPLE V. ENRON, Will Your Jury Find You Guilty?

There are plenty of interested people watching the fraud trial of former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. Certainly, Enron investors who collectively lost $64 billion are paying attention. No doubt, Enron employees--many of whom owned company stock through their 401(k) plans, are interested as well. As are the 26,000 former employees of Arthur Anderson, who lost their jobs after Enron prosecutors charged their company with obstructing justice. You would expect these concerned people to be engrossed with the proceedings. But you might be unprepared for the trial's effect on your employees.

With the publicity surrounding such a high-profile case, it's hard to ignore the media coverage even if you want to. Employees can't help seeing a newspaper headline or hearing a newscaster mentioning the trial. And each reference to the case silently fuels the growing all-bosses-are-crooks resulting from the onslaught of highly publicized corporate scandals.

How does this affect you even if you're not the CEO of a scandal-plagued conglomerate? Simply put, employees subconsciously apply the stereotype to managers at every level, and that includes you, too. So before you can earn your employees' trust, you have to prove yourself innocent of being a scoundrel.

Every day, countless business people have to work extra hard to disprove the labels others assign to them. African Americans must work tirelessly to prove they're not lazy. Women must show their toughness, lest they appear too emotional for the high-pressure business world. And now, leaders in positions ranging from CEO to front-line supervisor must prove their integrity. But it's not as simple as proving you're not stealing company funds.

In leadership, integrity requires consistency between an organization's spoken values and its leaders' actual behavior. Of course, if your organization lists "protecting company assets" as a value, employees want to know you're not taking the petty cash home with you. But just as importantly, if "promoting work-life balance" is one of your company's values, employees need to hear you encouraging them occasionally to leave early to catch their children's soccer games. As in court, you must show them--beyond the shadow of a doubt--that you live by the values you profess.
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