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The first time you put pressure on to achieve no matter what the cost, the first time you reward results without asking how they were achieved, is the first time that the seeds of a road best not travelled are sown.
Where does the ‘road to Panama’ start? Do the little lies come first, or at least not exactly lying but not telling the whole truth? Is it a reaction to the everyone is doing it so why shouldn’t I syndrome? Or is it simply a response to the challenge to do more, to be more, which somehow twists into the feeling that if I’m giving all of this why shouldn’t I benefit in return?
Don’t tell me that it couldn’t happen in your organisation. The first time you put pressure on to achieve no matter what the cost, the first time you reward results without asking how they were achieved, is the first time that the seeds of a road best not travelled are sown.
Are we going too far? Surely it is wrong to compare the way in which individuals act within an organisation to the deliberate attempt to hide money and evade tax which the leaked Panama papers are alleged to reveal. Well no, not really! Unethical behaviour is unethical however you look at it and the extent to which it is indulged is simply a matter of scale.
Over the last decade we’ve seen example after example of individuals, public figures and corporations putting their own interests ahead of those of the community. Each no doubt thought they had legitimate reasons to act in the way in which they did but in truth whatever reasons they thought they had at heart the best we can say is that they were a sop to personal conscience.
As an individual, as an organisation, as a public body either you do right or not at all. And in this context, as a leader it is your prime duty to ensure that the conditions are in place which not only enable but enforce a culture of doing it right. When we talk about strong cultures, when we talk about ethical cultures and promoting diversity and engaging employees and collaborating to create innovative solutions, then there is one overriding consideration which no organisation should ignore and that is its impact on the wider world.
When as a leader, or as an individual, you put power and profits and self-aggrandizement ahead of people then you are taking that first step along the road to Panama. Take a good look around you; at your people and your systems and more importantly at your aims and your values. It’s not going to be easy, but it may be more than time for you to change.