Business Leaders Must Promote Ethics and Integrity

October 9, 2009
Nashville Busines Journal

The topic of ethics belongs at the top of our national agenda.   Now is the time for our political, spiritual and business leaders to raise the national bar on integrity. The ethical lapses that seem so prevalent today always come back to haunt the initiators. The rewards, both personal and professional, for moral and ethical business leadership are great and the consequences of falling short are enormous. Straighten up, America!

Pfizer has agreed to pay $2.3 billion dollars for illegally marketing a painkiller.
The story goes like this.  Pharmaceutical companies are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to sell their medicines for specific uses. In this case, Pfizer somehow marketed this product for unapproved uses. It would be understandable (not acceptable) if one or two inexperienced sales people got carried away and marketed the product for the wrong uses. But when the settlement is in the billions of dollars, it becomes obvious that the ethical breakdowns were very broad - based.

How can an ethical breakdown be so great that it can cost $2.3 billion?  It is apparent that the leadership is either disconnected from the business or just plain think they are above the law. Stakeholders should not tolerate that brand of leadership.  We should all speak - out in opposition to any and every ethical lapse from any American business.

The popular response to ethical business lapses is a call for more regulation. After Enron, World.Com, Tyco and the others, the government gave us the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  Sarbanes-Oxley has cost US businesses (and, in turn, consumers) billions in bureaucratic controls, made us that much less competitive, driven most IPOs off-shore and has done little or nothing to stop fraud and dishonesty.  Morality, honesty, integrity and ethics are human values that are almost impossible to regulate.

Our political, spiritual and business leaders should encourage and celebrate ethics and integrity at every opportunity.  Doing the right thing all the time, regardless of the consequences, should be the standard for American business. We, as citizens and stockholders, should hold our leaders accountable and never tolerate a shortfall of integrity.

Leaders from every walk of life should use their “bully pulpit” to repetitively espouse the importance of “taking the high road”, in life as well as in business. Leaders have an obligation to set direction, and nothing is more important than setting high ethical standards. Repetitive discussion of the importance of integrity is the process for instilling the right values as part of our way of life. 

But, honestly, it goes beyond talking about high ethical standards.  We must also demonstrate those standards in our actions.  Remember, actions speak louder than words. 

Leaders – consider yourselves challenged!


Joe Scarlett, joe@joescarlett.com
Retired Chairman of Tractor Supply Company
Founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute

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