I think the best way to identify a potential leader is to ask people: “Who do you enjoy working with? Who do you respect in the workforce?” The names you hear in answer to those questions are the kind of people you want to identify as potential leaders and promote. I’ll never forget, in the seventh grade I was elected president of my class. I came home and told my Dad, who was a career navy officer. I said, “Dad, I won the election. I’m president of the class!” And my dad said, “Ken, that’s great! Now that you have that position—never use it. Great leaders are great because their people trust and respect them, not because they have power.” So think about it: Who do people trust and respect in your workplace? Who do people go to for advice who might not be a leader now? Those are the ones you want to identify. Those are the ones who have the potential to be leaders, because people are already attracted to them.
The firing of Joe Paterno as coach of Penn State has dominated the news this week. A legendary coach with the most wins in the history of major college football, Joe was dismissed for not doing more to stop the alleged sexual abuse of children by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
The news came as a shock, because in many ways Joe was considered an outstanding human being. Not only had he coached at Penn State for 61 years, he’d also donated more than $3 million to the university and helped raise more than $13 million for its library.
I feel badly about the Paterno firing for two reasons. First, I’m deeply saddened about the impact of the alleged sexual abuse on the victims and their families. Second, I’m saddened for the students at Penn State, who argued that the board of trustees should have allowed Joe at least one more game or let him finish the season. From their point of view, Joe had broken no laws. When he’d learned about the sexual abuse, he’d reported it to the athletic director and to the vice president.
As I thought about it this week, the case of Joe Paterno is a classic example of why it’s so important to do the Ethics Check when making key decisions. In our book The Power of Ethical Management: Integrity Pays! You Don’t Have To Cheat To Win, Norman Vincent Peale and I describe the Ethics Check, which poses a series of questions around three areas: legality, fairness, and self-esteem. The next time you’re faced with a dilemma, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is it legal? Will you be violating either civil law or organizational policy?
In today’s society, people tend to focus on this first aspect of the Ethics Check—the legal question. They think if they can get lawyers to okay the decision, they’re doing the right thing. But just because an action is legal does not make it ethical. To assure that you’re doing the right thing, it’s a good idea to review the second two aspects of the Ethics Check.
2. Is it balanced? Is it fair to all concerned in the short term as well as the long term? Does it promote win-win relationships?
If Coach Paterno had really thought through the fairness question—if he had fully considered the trauma to the victims and their families—he might have realized that he needed to do more. He’s already made statements that he probably should have done more. The fairness question goes beyond the legal question and looks at the effect your decision will have on others.
3. How will it make you feel about yourself? Will it make you proud? Would you feel good if your decision was published in the newspapers? Would you feel good if your kids and grandkids knew about it?
Unethical behavior erodes self-esteem. That’s why you feel troubled when you make a decision that goes against your own innate sense of what’s right. As the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.” Thinking through how you’d feel if your actions were published in the newspaper or if your kids found out about them can help you decide the right thing to do. I’m sure that if Paterno knew how this incident would dominate his reputation at the end of his career, he certainly would have done more.
This simple but powerful Ethics Check can help anyone—from world leaders to boards of directors to private citizens—make decisions that stand the test of time and result in the greatest good. When you look at all three aspects of the Ethics Check, you can see that in making their tough decision, the board of trustees at Penn State did the right thing.
During tough economic times, I’m often asked how to build trust within an organization. People seem to be really down and don’t trust their leaders. I got the best advice about this from my friend Ichak Adizes, who used to be a professor at UCLA—a brilliant guy. He said, “You can’t talk about trust until you talk about respect.” There’s a nonverbal and verbal aspect of each of those. If I respect you, I face you, because I want to hear your opinion. If I don’t respect you, I turn my back on you, because I couldn’t care less what you think. But this it interesting—if I trust you, I’m willing to turn my back on you because I know you mean me no harm. If I don’t trust you, I face you because I need to watch your every move. So these two things work together. You can’t talk about building trust until you show respect. I’ve seen a lot of leaders who will go behind closed doors and start making decisions about other people’s lives. And the people outside the door don’t trust the intentions of the leaders inside; they think they’re in there to serve themselves.
One of the things we do to show respect for people in our company is to share our balance sheet with them so they know how the company is doing. We even brought in someone from Colorado to teach people how to read a balance sheet! We share this because we want everyone to always know where we stand as an organization. We have a gain-sharing program where we share a percentage of our profits with our people. We also have a “give back” program where we take a percentage of our profit and give it to our employees so they can each give money to a charity that is important to them. We want them involved—we show them respect and they trust us in return. I think it’s so powerful and so necessary to understand how those two things go together. If you don’t treat people with respect, they won’t trust you. Trust and respect go together.
I recently heard a wonderful speaker named David Cook, who is one of the great sports mental coaches in the country. He had a really interesting theory about goal setting that I thought was worth sharing with you. He said when you go to set up a goal, whatever it is, you should try to see that goal in your own mind being accomplished. You need to see the outcome. Then you need to feel what it will be like once you’ve accomplished that particular goal, and get that feeling in mind. And then you need to trust that you’re going to be able to get there. He said the power is in the seeing it and the feeling it, and then just trusting the thing. So if you have a goal, whether it’s a business or personal goal, try to actually see yourself accomplishing it and feel like you’re going to feel once you’ve accomplished it—the smile on your face, the applause from other people, whatever—and then just trust it and set your sights on that goal. I think that is really interesting. In golf, he has a whole bunch of people who have “SFT” on their ball, so when they’re playing golf, they try to see every shot—what kind of shot are they going to hit, where is it going to go, how high and all—then get up and feel it, and then just trust the process. He said it really is amazing how it works on all kinds of goals. I was thinking about the great athletes competing in the Olympics—the ones who win have seen themselves crossing the finish line and accomplishing their goal ahead of time. Then they make their actions consistent with what they are seeing and feeling. I think it’s a really fascinating process: See it – Feel it – Trust it. Isn’t that interesting? Try it on one of your goals today.
I used to work with a fellow named Rick Tate, who talked about studying people who trained seeing-eye dogs. What they found was that they kick two kinds of dogs out of the program: The first kind were the ones who were completely obedient, who would do anything that the master said. That was really kind of surprising because you would have thought that the only ones they would kick out would be the ones who wouldn’t do anything that the master said. But they kicked out both kinds. The only dogs they kept in the program were the dogs who would do what the master said unless it didn’t make sense. They kept the dogs that could think for themselves. I think that’s what we as leaders should always try to do—get everybody to think for themselves. Sure, we have some guidelines, here’s what our policy is and all, but use your brains. You can imagine a seeing-eye dog with his master at the street corner, and the master says, “Forward,” and the dog looks up and there’s a car coming at sixty miles an hour. And the dog thinks, “This is gonna be a real bummer,” as he leads his master out into the middle of the street. So we want to empower people to use their brains – train them to do what the boss wants, or what the policies are, unless it doesn’t make sense. That’s really allowing people to bring their brains to work. So don’t get hit by a car! Use your brain today.