When we sign up for a Netflix account, the company agrees to provide us with programming, and we agree to pay a monthly fee.
In addition, we agree not to share our password with people outside of our household.
Oh, but wait! That last bit is in the small print that no one reads. You know, just above the “I accept” button. If no one reads that stuff, and everyone knows that no one reads that stuff, then it’s not enforceable, right?
“I accept.” It’s pretty straight-forward English.
So Netflix is entirely within its rights to enforce the agreement, and everyone complaining about it should have an honest look in the mirror.
The very first motion I filed in a US court was an order to show cause, seeking a judgment of contempt of court against an executrix who was not complying with a court order in favor of my client. The executrix faced imprisonment as a result. You simply can’t ignore a court order.
So it has been interesting to observe how Donald Trump has been defying court orders with little consequences. The same person who expected everyone to comply with his executive orders is now disregarding judicial orders. And if the judicial branch is hesitating to find him in contempt now, imagine their restraint if he gets elected again.
In the workplace, we see similar behaviors from senior executives who believe that the Code of Conduct or certain corporate policies don’t apply to them. They expect loyalty from everyone else but feel bound by no person or rule. These leaders create a toxic culture at the top, which quickly seeps into the lower ranks. Within a few years, most of these organizations are embroiled in scandals, and many implode.
Corporations, courts, and countries should never tolerate someone who believes they are above the law.
Many people feel powerless in the face of corporate wrongdoing.
The trick, often, is simply to do something. “Start where you are and do what you can,” as they say.
That’s what photographer Nan Goldin did after recovering from her addiction to Oxycontin. As a victim, she was enraged by the inaction of Congress and the Department of Justice. As an artist, she was also disgusted by the amounts of money that prestigious museums would accept from the Sackler family in exchange for their name to be engraved in marble. So she became an activist. And with nothing more than her determination, she applied pressure on the Guggenheim, the Louvre, the Met (among others) until they removed the obscene plaques bearing the Sackler name.
You will soon be able to learn more about her activism in a new documentary titled All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. In the meantime, what could you do to prevent or stop societal harm?
My advice to employees who report wrongdoing to their ethics and compliance officer: tell the whole truth.
If you leave something out, it will affect your credibility. Once your credibility is affected, nothing you said, or will say, can be taken for granted.
The ethics officer you hoped would be your partner in righting a wrong will now have to doubt you every step of the way. Furthermore, she may lose some of her appetite to fight your fight.
If some of the facts are not helping your case, you should still disclose them up front. Don’t let your ethics officer find out from someone else.
I was a senior in high school when the Challenger exploded.
I was in class at the time of the launch. I think it was chemistry. The teacher had rolled in a television set for all of us to watch. I remember how quiet the whole school got after the explosion. Not just my classroom; the whole school.
Allan McDonald never stayed quiet. McDonald was the engineer who refused to approve the Challenger launch. He knew that the O-rings at the booster rocket joints would likely fail in the unusually low temperatures of launch day. He spoke up before the launch but was overruled by his company’s executives.
Then, 12 days later, in a closed hearing of a presidential commission investigating the explosion, he spoke up again and corrected the record after a NASA official tried to suggest that McDonald had approved the launch. Embarrassed, his company demoted him in an effort to silence him. When the US Government heard of the demotion, it threatened to remove the company from all future NASA contracts. McDonald was promoted back and put in charge of redesigning the rocket joints.
After his retirement in 2001, he became an advocate of ethical decision-making to engineering students, to engineers and to managers, both in the private sector and in government agencies.
He never stayed quiet on the importance of doing the right thing.
McDonald passed away on Saturday.
He can rest in peace.
Today you might be sitting quietly by yourself and have this strange idea about doing something wrong. You’ll probably dismiss the idea quickly.
Or an acquaintance might suggest that you do something wrong. You’ll probably politely decline.
Or your boss might ask you to do something wrong. That will be uncomfortable.
Or the law might ask you to do something wrong.
Today in 1955, the law asked James. F. Blake to use his police powers as a bus driver to sign a warrant for the arrest of Rosa Park after she refused to give up her seat to a white man. To be fair, Blake did not hesitate. Twelve years earlier, Blake had made Parks disembark after she entered his bus from the front door and paid her fare; he wanted her to enter from the back door. But not all bus drivers agreed with the law. What were they supposed to do? What would you have done?
Today we have laws that separate children from their parents at border crossings. We have laws that criminalize sharing our food with the homeless. Perhaps you have rules in your office that are unfair.
Will you enforce them?
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.
“I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do. That is character!”Theodore Roosevelt
Every leader is called to be an antiracist, today more than ever.
Taking a stand will expose us to attacks and criticism. We may damage a relationship with a relative, lose a friend, or be excluded at work.
Let us not care about it. Our character is at stake, and that of every nation on Earth.
In times of crisis, some companies offer relief to their employees, customers and suppliers.
Other companies take advantage of the temporary vulnerability of those they depend on during normal times.
What is your company’s long-term strategy? What’s its character?
Plato gave this advice in The Republic (using different words).
William Makepeace Thackeray is believed to have coined the phrase in the 1850s (as reported in Laurence Hutton’s memoir).
The quote was eventually, and probably wrongly, attributed to Abraham Lincoln for the first time in 1946, 81 years after his death (Lincoln was born on this day in 1809)
The theme was delivered beautifully by Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1967 speech “What is Your Life’s Blueprint” (in the excerpt better known as “The Street Sweeper”).
On the surface, this quote seems to exhort us to simply be good at our craft, to hone the skills required of our job. Of course, it is much more than that. Those words urge us to forge our character and to seek justice.
Some would say we should seek justice for all mankind. I find it a tall order. I think it would suffice if all of us were just farmers and street sweepers, just children and parents, just employees and bosses.
Let us be just men and women.