Few Americans rate highly the ethical standards of executives, lawyers, members of Congress, or stockbrokers, reports Bruce Weinstein
Energy Czar. Health Reform Czar. Technology Czar. Green Czar. President Barack Obama continues to line up an impressive array of policy leaders to tackle our ever-mounting social and economic problems. Tough times call for creative solutions, and the President is right to look for the best and the brightest to heal our battered economy and bruised infrastructure.
But there is one kind of problem the Obama Administration has yet to tackle, even though it may be the most pervasive one of all. It is a distressing issue about which everyone complains but no one has been able to address effectively: The widespread failure of our leaders—and the rest of us—to take ethics seriously.
What we need is an Ethics Czar.
According to the annual USA Today/Gallup Poll, less than one American in four rates highly the ethical standards of business executives, attorneys, members of Congress, or stockbrokers. Bankers had it especially rough in the latest poll: Their approval rating fell from 35% to 23%. Even before the Blagojevich scandal hit the news, only 22% of Americans held state governors in high esteem.
A contempt for ethics lies at the heart of almost every top story of the day: Yankee hitter Alex Rodriguez admitting to steroid use, investor Bernard L. Madoff confessing to running the largest Ponzi scheme in history, a report by the Josephson Institute stating that 64% of high school students cheat and 30% steal. As I have argued repeatedly in this column, however, striving to live an ethical life isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do, too.
I therefore propose my top nominee for Ethics Czar: You.
That’s right. Whether you’re the CEO of a global corporation, a midlevel manager, or an entrepreneur striking out in this difficult economy, you are the one who should set high standards in your organization and do your level best to live up to them.
In fact, being the Ethics Czar applies not just to how you lead your organization, but also to how you lead your life. I hereby offer six simple rules for ethical leadership at work, with your family and friends, and in your community.
A CODE OF CONDUCT FOR ETHICS CZARS
1. LEAD BY EXAMPLE
2. PRAISE GENEROUSLY
3. CRITICIZE TO BUILD UP, NOT BREAK DOWN
4. BE KIND, UNWIND
5. PUNISH FAIRLY
6. IF IT IS TO BE, IT’S UP TO THEE