By Francis J. Kong
The Enron scandal – one of the largest corporate bankruptcy in US history, and the biggest audit failure. The executive staff of the American energy company in Houston, Texas, hid billions in company debt for many years, until October 21, when the scandal came to light. The damage was extensive. Their accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, formerly one of the five largest audit and accountancy partnerships in the world, collapsed because of their compromise on integrity. And the world knew about it seconds after news broke out.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 21st century – a 24-hour reality show where good things and bad can be tweeted/blogged/spread against business organizations no matter how big or powerful.
Everyone, everywhere, everyday is Reality TV. You’re naked. You’re in a goldfish bowl. You’re in The Truman Show. Your every move is watched and analyzed. You can’t hide anything. Everything is see-through (a term made popular in the ’60s, for the kiddos out there). Especially when it comes to leadership.
People cry out for authenticity and for authentic leadership. That’s why organizations need to be True. You need to be True. The only way people will give you the permission to lead them is when you’ve built a trust relationship with them. That’s why business ethics is not just an afterthought. It should be the norm, in every level of every shape of corporate structure.
Inspired leaders are comfortable naked. They’ve nothing to hide. Sir John Hoskyns, founder of Hoskyns Systems, says, “Strategic leadership requires a readiness to look personally foolish … and total honesty; a readiness to admit you got it wrong.”
I don’t sing well, and I definitely don’t dance, but as a leader, I’m always on stage – physically (I speak on stage almost every day of my life… Ok, so maybe not every day, but something like 333 times last year, and currently running at 160..) and figuratively. And whether you like it or not, you are too, if you’re a leader. But, you’re not faced with an adoring, flower-throwing public. Your employees, your investors, your customers, your suppliers, the press – your public – are generally wised-up, and they see with X-ray vision. You can’t fool them. To win their attention, respect, trust and their following, you have to be real.
Keep in mind leaders and organizations: In this world of amazing connectivity, the distance from hero to zero is remarkably short. And the extent of the disparity of your claims and of your real make is directly proportional to the collapse of your share price as soon as this disparity becomes public knowledge. And it will become public knowledge. Estimates on how fast range only from seconds to minutes. These ethics and integrity requirements also apply – more so – to religious and especially government institutions.
Welcome to our 21st Century Reality Show. And for those who don’t want to walk their talk and live their lip, you will be found out, and you won’t last. That’s a promise!