My friend Jim Pinto became a well known automation industry pundit and consultant in his life after selling his company. He became the first columnist I recruited when starting Automation World magazine.
Lately, he has chucked his old “blog” and changed directions. He’s writing much more about business ethics and larger topics.
His latest post Creeping Criminality tackles the ethical problems that can happen when one small decision leads to later larger decisions that go over the line from “tweaking the truth” to outright lying.
“In our society many people measure individual progress by steadily increasing wealth and the symbols of success. The bright and successful are envied and admired, the unintelligent and poor ignored and despised. To achieve success, we discover it takes more than brains and hard work–Sometimes it takes a propensity for pretense, the inclination to cut corners, take short cuts. The smarter a person is, the easier it is for them to tweak the truth. Overstating is acceptable.”
He hits a number of things in that paragraph. There is the “social Darwinism” (a 19th century concept that evolved following the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”).
Jim continues, “Few people are out-and-out cheats and liars – most drift into increasingly dubious behavior through insidious wealth addiction. Bluffing and amplification and become the norm. Many drift into tweaking results, expecting that they can explain away the discrepancy if and when their bluff is called. They fudge (stretch the truth), and then the fiddling turns to lying, which extends to cheating and stealing. This is ‘creeping criminality.’ Anyone is capable of cultivating creeping criminality. It grows and tends to become addictive.”
Just when I thought Jim was perhaps a little overly pessimistic, I ran across a blog I follow where the latest post was “Authentic Communication.” He begins by quoting Noel Coward, “It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honest and how few by deceit.”
This sounds like Mark Twain, “Always do good. This will please some people and shock the rest.”
My history in business is littered with many business owners and managers who pretty much flat-out lied to me. Several owe me money. Many went to great pains to describe how “Christian” they were during our time together.
What Jim describes is a real pitfall that we can slide into. On the other hand, I’ve met many people from CEOs of multi-billion dollar businesses to the small business owner down the street who are as ethical as can be.
I would take Jim’s post as a warning shot. Step back and look at your leadership. Are you telling the truth? Are your actions and words congruent–that is are you trustworthy? These are the foundations of leadership that matters. Let your business ethics speak to your leadership.