Sincerity is Not That Common

When developing and implementing an ethical culture, senior executives and managers have to believe in what they are preaching.  They need to live the ethical culture in everything they do and there must be consequences when they don’t.

As John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Our editorial team has assembled a few real-life examples of interactions they have had with senior executives and managers in the past.  The examples are meant to be educational, but some may hit close to home.  It’s the type of behavior that an organization must eradicate, if it wants stakeholders to trust that the company is sincere.


  • I’m off to save the world, ha ha haAlbert was trying to reach the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) of a Fortune 100 company to discuss a settlement issue that the CCO was managing.  Albert caught up with the CCO in the midst of his trip to Washington D.C.  Albert asked the CCO what he was doing in Washington and the CCO said that he was attending a conference at a multinational Non-Government Organization (NGO) that the CCO’s company supported financially.   The CCO went on to say, “I’m doing my part to save the world I guess, ha ha ha”.  Albert was not impressed.  It was clear, based on the CCO’s response, that attendance at the conference was a chore and the CCO was not really sincere in supporting the goals of the NGO.
  • You’re the only one on the call, right?  Geoff was participating in a meeting with a senior foreign official (cabinet level).  Also in the meeting, via conference call, was an executive from the home office of the organization that Geoff worked for.  The foreign official asked if the executive was the only one on the phone, to which he replied yes.  Unfortunately, after the meeting concluded Geoff discovered that the executive had lied, as there were others listening in.  There were two other executives and six lawyers on the phone and they did not identify themselves.  The ethical thing to do would have been to tell the truth or be the only one on the phone.
  • A quick payment should do it.  Frank was working with other senior managers within his organization to understand how they might mitigate a security problem at one of their projects in a developing country.  During a conference call, which included a director from Frank’s company, one of Frank’s colleagues suggested that a quick payment (a bribe) to a military officer in the area, or a judge, should help alleviate the problem.  The director from Frank’s company started asking how that would be accomplished and showed interest in the concept.  Frank interrupted and said, “not only is that proposal illegal in the country we are talking about, but it is illegal in every other jurisdiction in the world, and I’m failing to understand why I’m the one who needs to point that out”.  The director relented and said, “I guess we’ll have to find another way”.  The proposal from Frank’s colleague was illegal and against company policy, yet the individual was not sanctioned.
  • A note to file.   Leonard was asked to conduct due diligence on an agent who was hired by his company (President and Vice President hired the agent).   There were several red flags associated with the agent, which included the use of offshore shell companies, the broad scope of his task and his closeness to Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) in the developing country where his assistance was sought.  Advisors to the President and Vice President were against a detailed due diligence effort because they thought it might “offend” the agent, so they suggested a quick note to file.  Failing to conduct detailed due diligence before hiring an agent was against company policy, but the President and Vice President considered the proposal of the advisors for several weeks.  In the end, the agent was hired and the detailed due diligence completed one month after his start date.  It was too late to do anything, because the senior leadership, and their advisors, were sold on the mission of the agent.
  • Have the consultant modify his invoice.  Jennifer was contacted by the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of her company and asked to modify an invoice that was submitted by a consultant.  Apparently, there was some language in the invoice that raised some ethical questions about what the consultant was doing on behalf of the company.  Jennifer refused and stated that it would be against company policy for her to modify an invoice.  She referred the matter, and the request, to Human Resources.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy