Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why we’re to blame when our leaders fail us

A lot of media coverage has been given in recent weeks to an ex-chair of a national ethical bank, and it strikes me as interesting for a couple of reasons that you might not expect –

1) what finally ‘tipped the balance’: this is someone who’s expenses claims on the boards of several charities where they served as a trustee were seriously questioned over the years, and who’s Council computer they used in their duties as an elected councillor were apparently found to contain images that would breach most company’s IT usage policies... but it was only after they were ‘caught’ buying (not taking!) drugs that they were ousted: both as Chair of the Bank and as a Minister of the Church.

Does this mean that as a society we have a scale of (un)ethical behaviours that we’re prepared to accept? (probably - I've written about how pornography is more ethically acceptable than tobacco before...)

2) And given the above, how were they allowed to keep holding (and gaining) the positions of power and authority that they did?

And these questions get me thinking about how they were able to fall so far – why did no-one intervene sooner or spot warning signs?

I think it may be something to do with the way we treat and support those in authority: the higher up an organisation you rise, the less support you have available and offered to you.

For example: think about volunteering for a charity, or being the shop-front worker in a small business – there’s clear induction to make sure you know what you’re doing, regular check-ins to see if everything’s going well, and lots of legislation to make sure that employers are properly looking after you. But become a Director or a Trustee and all that seems to vanish... there are few formal inductions or reviews at the Board level in private, social and charitable enterprises I've walked alongside over the years – and this is echoed by the Charity Commission who've found that the majority of complaints they investigate are due to governance failings, and the need in the private sector over the years to introduce Codes of Conduct for Directors.

So – as the troubles of an ailing bank are heaped upon one person who succumbed to human weaknesses, do we really only have ourselves to blame when we've set them up with no means of helping to support them do the jobs we're asking and expecting of them?

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