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Turbulent times call for ethical leadership

Aristotle the Greek considered ethics a moral philosophy defining right and wrong, good and evil, and responsibility for one's actions.

Individually, we develop a personal code of ethical values during our lives. Children tend to not absorb such an abstract concept, preferring to refer to it as “being made to feel guilty” by their parents. This moral code may be derived from family values, culturally-driven acceptable behaviour within a community, and self-imposed standards of personal conduct.

Societies impose behavioural ethics on its citizens, explicitly, and more often subtly implicit. The British will say in droll judgment on some flagrant impropriety, “it is just not done”.

Ethics then, as a moral code includes standards of trust, truth and transparency.

Societies Formulated Codes of Professional Ethics. Regulatory agencies were instituted to mandate high standards and to protect public citizens.

• Qualified finance professionals must follow an ethics code for their specific professions:

• Juris Doctor and the legal profession have the Attorney's Code of Ethics;

• Doctors of Medicine all have ethics code requirements with the Hippocratic Oath (again Greek philosophers' influence);

• Chief executive officers of publicly traded US corporations are required to adhere the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 (similar acts were adopted in other jurisdictions). Its intent was to re-establish public trust in corporate finance; raise the standards of good business behaviour thereby authenticating shareholder value, and encourage reinvestment in corporate America. And it has worked.

• In the United States, Federal employees, Representatives, Senators, judges, political appointees, the President and Vice-President of the United States take an oath of allegiance to the US constitution. Visit: https://tinyurl.com/y752clej

• The United Kingdom and colonies have Principles and Codes of Conduct for Members of Parliament and civil servants. Visit: https://tinyurl.com/y5fqgcw6

• Canada has comparable legislation “to strengthen electoral democracy in Canada.”

• It could be safely said that every civilised modern democracy has developed ethical standards for all of the above organisations and political structures.

A brief ethical quality list that applies equally to professionals in commerce, and even more so to politicians — since it is our money and our democratic freedom that politicians are sworn to protect, is quite illuminating.

• Act with integrity, competence, diligence, respect, and in an ethical manner with the public and clients.

• Use reasonable care and exercise independent professional judgment in all matters.

• Full transparency in the advisory and representation process

• The clients' or consumers' interest and trust must take precedent.

• Comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations of any government, regulatory organisation, licensing agency, or professional association.

• No solicitations, acceptance of gifts, benefits, compensation.

• No dishonesty, fraud, or deceit that compromises their own or another's independence and objectivity.

Breaking the Ethics Code. Unethical inappropriate conduct by a qualified professional exposes the perpetrator to public peer censure (and in the media), loss of license, prohibition from future practice, while in egregious cases, criminal prosecution, felony charges and imprisonment follow. The disgrace that follows becomes a very long road to redemption.

Political Code of Ethics. Running a country may be on a grander scale (to some extent), but no different from that of a corporate entity, or a family when it comes to trust and ethics.

A country's citizens (and foreign investors) are the shareholders wanting to maintain a high market value on their country's stock. They understand that reputation for excellence means democracy in action: the opportunity for an enhanced lifestyle, greater business employment opportunities and access to amenities — the perceived bonuses in life.

Politicians are implicitly charged to conduct themselves with due professional care, avoiding even the appearance of impropriety, standards that are even higher than professionals because of their responsibility (and their accountability) to their constituents. They, too, can pay a severe price — one only has to look at the list example of just US state and local politicians convicted of crimes, linked below.

Erosion of Ethics by Opportunistic Corrosion. Political (and sometimes professional) trust may be an oxymoron.

When an individual slips in public service or private commerce, ignorantly or deliberately, in their everyday duty by succumbing to wants versus needs, personal self-interests above country, the pursuit of wealth rather than protecting those who may never have the same opportunities, the list becomes a depressingly endless daily litany of big words, some so difficult to pronounce, you cannot even figure out how to spell them, but you can research them if you feel for it!

• Malfeasance

• Egregious acts

• Impropriety

• Alternative facts

• Digression

• Disinformation

• Subversion

• Suppression of facts

• Disparagement of competitors

• Embezzlement

• Corruption

• Perjury

• Conspiracy

• Obfuscations

• Extortion

• Obstruction of justice

• Racketeering

• Ethics violations

Certainly, we are all so personally worn down from health and employment concerns that these transgressions leave citizens feeling more disillusioned than ever.

People across the globe, they've (we've) been medically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually rocked to their very core with current Covid challenges, so abrupt, so dramatic, so permanent, even so very sadly fatal, changes in their lives.

The result is a heightened lack of distrust in authority figures and the reaction by the public is punishment, brutally, ruthlessly against the individual, the company (or country) reputation through the court of public opinion.

In times of distress, times of sorrow, times of financial and natural catastrophes, communities need real leaders. Real leadership, real commitment to accept responsibility, real integrity, real ethics, real compassion, real truths in a leader are vaunted attributes of mythical proportions.

These leaders still exist.

We need them now more than ever.

Reference sources:

• Wikipedia. https://tinyurl.com/yyxje8x7

Note: this is an adaptation of my article (rant) in 2007 on the demands for transparency and responsibility in corporate commerce, namely the Sarbanes-Oxley, “The Business of Ethics and the Ethics in Business” available in The Royal Gazette Bermuda digital archives.

Martha Harris Myron, CPA JSM, a native Bermudian, is Creator: Pondstraddler Life™ Financial Perspectives, International Financial Consultant to the Olderhood Group Bermuda, and financial columnist to The Royal Gazette, Bermuda. All Proceeds from these articles are donated by The Royal Gazette to the Salvation Army, Bermuda

Seeking leadership: in times of distress, communities need real leaders with commitment to accept responsibility, and show real integrity, ethics, and compassion, writes Moneywise's Martha Harris Myron (File photograph)

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Published August 29, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated August 29, 2020 at 8:09 am)

Turbulent times call for ethical leadership

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