[November 9, 2017] It is being called the “biggest scandal in U.S. Navy history;” over 60 admirals and hundreds of officers under scrutiny for a scandal involving alcohol and prostitutes.”1 The hype is overblown but nevertheless raises the important issue of dangerous traps for leaders.
“Every leader has the responsibility to hone his or her integrity. Many times, there are integrity traps that have a tendency to catch well-meaning leaders off guard.” – Dr. Travis Bradberry, American author on subject of emotional intelligence
Each military service closely tracks all ethical breaches of conduct by their most senior personnel. Other large organizations do the same; although only a few will admit to it.
Here are a few of the more common, yet dangerous, traps for leaders in the U.S. government. However, the idea applies to all organizations, regardless of size or complexity. Good ethics are the gold standard and ignorance of the rules is no excuse. Here are a few to enlighten us:
- Abuse of Position (also called Misuse of Position) is when a government official uses the position for his own private gain or for private gain of friends, relatives, or organizations with which the official is affiliated. This includes government time, information, equipment, or property. This is one of the more common ethical traps and the one the U.S. Navy’s current scandal revolves around (along with the next two categories).
- Travel and Transportation are governed by a complex set of rules and regulations. We find that leaders are often trapped because they failed to follow a few basic considerations. Some of the basics are government-owned or controlled transportation is for official purposes only, it must be cost-effective, commercial transportation maximized, and the rules uniformly applied.
- Conflicts of Interest occur when a government official has a personal interest or relationship that conflicts with the faithful performance of official duty. This is a very broad area that officials are getting caught up in often.
- Gifts are a problem given that, by definition, they have monetary value and receiving a gift because of your government position is easily overlooked and unethical. Since there are a number of exceptions to this rule and the government regulations so convoluted, people are often tripped up unexpected. Of course, there are many who rightly deserve punishment for their failures to disclose improperly given gifts.
My wife says this is really boring stuff to be putting into my leadership column today but here is my main point … ethical traps are pervasive, unrelenting, and they can trap even the most diligent official. Investigations frequently follow. Going through one of these can be disheartening for the official but also for their family, friends, and associates. My advice is to be aware of the rules and follow them precisely.
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