A greater honor

A golfer loses the U.S. Open after assessing himself a one-stroke penalty.

A runner loses a cross-country race on purpose after noticing that the leader had mistakenly stopped before the finish line.

A lacrosse team withdraws from a tournament to make room for a more deserving team.

In countless examples, not just in sports but in life, people forgo an honor to preserve a greater one.

Multiply the effect of your work

If your boss asks you for something, is she the only one that could benefit from it?

Probably not.

So, if appropriate, share your work with your team, with your department, with the company, with the industry, or post it on the internet.

Afraid to be criticized? That’s normal. Leaders aren’t immune to that fear but their desire to improve the world is stronger.

Crime, charity, and voting

When I first learned of debtors’ prisons as a teenager, I intuitively knew it was a stupid idea. How can someone earn money to pay off their debt if they’re in jail?

Fortunately, the legal system back then wasn’t stupid enough to also prevent someone else from paying a prisoner’s debt. Today, however, a version of this is going on in Florida.

Like in most jurisdictions, Floridian felons are disenfranchised. Unlike most jurisdictions, they do not immediately regain their right to vote after serving their sentence. First, they have to pay all fines and court fees associated with their conviction.

There are currently 775,000 felons in Florida, with a collective $1,000,000,000 (yes, $1B) in unpaid court fees. Many of them cannot pay their debt without the help of family, friends or charitable organizations, such as the Florida Rights Restauration Coalition (FRRC). As we approach a presidential election in the US, organizations like the FRRC are working tirelessly to pay these outstanding court fees and restore citizens’ right to vote.

To me, this sounds like a good cause. But to Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican Congressman, it looks like an attempt by Democrat donors to get Joe Biden elected. So Gaetz has asked the Florida Attorney General to launch a bribery investigation against the donors. You see, Florida has yet another law on the books that makes it a felony for someone to either directly or indirectly provide something of value to impact whether or not someone votes. So if you donate money to a charitable organization that helps people pay their debt, which must be paid for them to vote, you might be engaging in criminal activity.

Mr. Gaetz, yours is not the type of leadership I would vote for.

On retaliation

Stories like the one of Ren Zhiqiang always remind me of the importance of a non-retaliation policy in an organization.

Granted, Ren didn’t have to compare Xi Jingpin to a naked clown. But even if he had not done so, chances are he would have ended up with a similar sentence anyway. Given his age, it’s likely to be a life sentence.

The fear of retaliation helps a culprit maintain the status quo. It is the best tool to prevent people from speaking up. When employees are not willing to speak up, it is nearly impossible to maintain a robust compliance program and an ethical corporate culture. For the ethics & compliance professional, the fear of retaliation is Public Enemy #1.

COVID discipline

There was Mary Mallon and typhoid. There was Thomas Guerra and HIV. There were many others, before and after, intentionally infecting others with potentially deadly diseases.

Today, some people with COVID-19 intentionally put others at risk. What discipline should we impose on an employee who shows up to work knowing that they are contagious?

When it comes to discipline, I usually ask the following questions:

  • Was it a breach of performance or a breach of trust?
  • What is the less severe discipline we can impose to ensure that a similar misconduct won’t happen again?

A breach of performance can often be remedied by teaching the employee a new skill. A breach of trust is often fatal, leading to termination.

If an employee enters the workplace knowing that they can spread COVID-19, they commit a breach of trust. Should they be terminated? In most cases, yes. Someone who is willing to do that is also willing to engage in many other types of misconduct, and we should not give them the chance. In many jurisdictions, it is a crime to intentionally spread an infectious disease (including COVID-19) and I am not keen on keeping criminals in the workplace.

Smile :)

The current pandemic is adding a layer of stress to everyone’s life, and that layer will only get thicker as the pandemic lingers.

For ethics & compliance professionals, this means that we are likely to deal with more agressive employee misconduct at work. It also means that we will approach these situations with diminished capacities, being ourselves the victim of additional stress in our lives.

So now might be a good time to remember that smiling reduces the stress of the person smiling and of the person receiving the smile (by activating the reward center of the brain). Eighty percent of the people we smile at smile back, strangers included. By simply smiling, we can sprinkle moments of calm and peace throughout the day.

That’s something we could all use today.


HT to Melanie Katzman for her book Connect First, 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work. I plan to share more of her tips in future posts.


My favorite description of culture is that it’s an outcome of our processes.

But we can go further than that. Processes are a series of actions. Actions follow thoughts. Thoughts can be expressed with words.

Words like trust, respect, and integrity. Words that express values and virtues.

What words describe your organization? The same words describe your culture.

I didn’t mean to

Prisoners often regret the pain that their incarceration has caused to their loved ones more than their own loss of liberty.

The same goes for employees fired for misconduct, now deeply ashamed of depriving their family of an income.

Even small, “victimless” infractions will cause a certain measure of injury on a third party.

Wrongdoing usually creates unintended victims.