You are a top administrator, in fact the Chief Operations Officer, for a highly reputable Center at a major university. This particular university happens to be the largest employer in the region. You are highly respected and everyone appreciates the work you do. One day your manager, the Center Director, comes to you and asks you to transfer $250,000 from a donor dependent, highly recognizable Institute at the University… into his personal business account that has nothing to do with the cause the donors support – in fact, your manager’s other company develops a product that has nothing to do with curing the disease the Institute is responsible for. Your manager demands that this questionable transfer must happen before the end of the fiscal year – in two weeks! After collecting more information, the request is to effectively steal these funds from the donors of the Institute in order to fund a commercial business that both the head of the Institute and the head of the Center are highly vested in on the side….
What would you do?
This is a true story told to me by a client put in a terrible situation – should she do what is asked of her and risk being responsible for illegal activity that could result in her own demise or do the right thing – risking the loss of her position, facing unemployment, and the loss of 50% of her family’s income?
I, like most of you, believe that business ethics must change if there is any hope of stemming the continuous abuse by corporate managers and leaders of the public trust. We look to education institutions as being the pillar of ethical behavior (and I believe in most cases they are), however in the above case, the faculty members we count on to establish ethical foundations in future business leaders are the same faculty members that are stealing from donors, pressuring employees to conduct unethical activities and conducting fraudulent activity. Worse, the administration of the university refused to hold their faculty members accountable for their unethical behaviors, thus condoning them. If we cannot count on universities to conduct themselves with honor and professionalism, is it any wonder that establishing strong business ethics in the business world has gone awry?
For the next few weeks, we will be discussing ethics in business. I would love for you to engage the discussion and let us know what you would do or tell us about unique experiences that you have had that called ethics to the front and center. Please feel free to contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next week for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.
Please note: The names of both the guilty and the innocent have been omitted for the protection of all.