The year 2009 will always be remembered for the great economic chaos across the world. The stories of ethical lapses are in the news again. Institutions folding up overnight; former CEOs on trial; Dalal Street heroes getting fat bonuses and journalists receiving secret payments. The ruling Congress revising its ethics rules to protect minorities as it is caught napping in the political fiasco. State Ministers embroiled in multimillion scams and so on.
In such a troubling environment, we understandably hear calls for colleges, universities, businesses and political parties to incorporate more ethics into their programs. But amid such calls, I see a greater challenge in locating inspiring leaders who can teach, exemplify and drive ethics in various programs.
After almost 24 years of my professional career, I’m still afraid to bet on any individual for his ethical character at the first instance. This isn’t because of my lack of familiarity with the subject and means, but simply because, we all have become so unpredictable.
As a team leader in various initiatives, I’ve taught ethics in a variety of settings, from an elite management team to a group of young interns. Teaching ethics in a business ecosystem demands that you come across to your audience as a person with integrity and values.
Moral education is about more than the information you convey to the group or the skills you help them develop. It is ultimately about the persons they become in the process. And my own character as a ‘teacher’ is crucial to its outcome.
The group views all I do and say in the ‘classroom’ through the lens of who they think I am. The cultural sensibilities they bring to their assessments of my character also complicate matters. They’ve grown up in a world in which the country has been carved up into ideologies, castes and religions. They log on to blogs that reinforce their own tastes and ignore those of others. Thus, if I appear to come at things from either side of a cultural divide, I’ll have resistance from at least half of the group.
The moral life, after all, is primarily something we do rather than something we talk about. Businesses today lay emphasis on ‘ethics’ by doling out documents like ‘Ethics Policies’ or ‘Moral Charter’ etc. There is no ongoing effort from the managements to pursue the understanding and absorption of these documents by their employees.
The business leaders themselves are engaged in making quick money. They are keener on building financial empires. Building an ethical framework is not a priority. Employees are also not far behind. There is a race for achieving materialistic pleasures too early in life.
Once a year, we see our ranking on the ‘corruption index’. The news is great for TV debates, and we rate the TV anchor on the intensity of the debate; not the outcome.
Here is some food for thought. How about creating a separate position in all organizations – ‘Ethics Director’? How about incentivizing the employees on ‘detection of fraudulent activities’? How about creating an ethics rating for CXOs on a common scale? How about taxing the businesses on the basis of their ‘ethics rating’? How about creating an exchange for trading in ‘ethics points’?
The questions may seem outrageous and in some cases hilarious. But tough issues do need desperate measures. Can you become ‘the agents of change’?
Seeding thoughts one at a time is my aim. Hope I succeed.