When captains must go down with their ships

16 February 2015
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MANILA, Philippines – Authority” and “responsibility” go hand-in-hand in life. One cannot assume a position of authority — and enjoy the associated perks —without also assuming responsibility when things go wrong.

This is the price of leadership: “The captain must go down with his/her ship.”  It’s a price that mankind has held its captains to, for both the literal or figurative ships in life.

A business is a ship of sorts. And so is a government body, or any organization, for that matter.

There are circumstances when a business, or government entity, is “going down” and the price of leadership for the titular head of the operation — be it a CEO, mayor or governor — is they have to go down with the ship. It’s not leadership when people resort to finger pointing or blaming a subordinate to save their rear end.

Nope. That is, in fact, gutless. Dishonorable. Pathetic.

One example of a business or government entity sinking is when there is the presence of widespread, chronic corruption. Fraud. Theft. Whatever you want to name it. But when shareholders or voters, for that matter, lose their money due to ongoing, nonstop corruption.

I am not talking about one-off issues but ongoing, sustainable corruption over a period of time: chronic corruption at the highest levels. And in these cases, the top dog has to go down with the ship. He cannot remain in a position of authority. No ifs, ands, or buts. No excuses. The big dog has to go.

The reason for this is actually quite simple.

You see, there are only three possible explanations for chronic corruption, and each of these three is a huge issue and means the captain cannot remain:

1. The first explanation is “I did not know about it.” This implies the leader was totally out of touch with his or her responsibilities and people were defrauding the organization for months, if not years, at a time. This means poor systems and poor supervision. This means in a word, incompetency. And an incompetent leader has no place remaining at the top.

2. The second explanation is, “I knew about it but I did not fight it.” I heard this explanation once when I took over for another executive in Africa, for an organization riddled with fraud. I was disgusted to hear this. If you take a job, do the job. Don’t shy away out of fear of personal consequences. What this explanation means is the leader lacks courage. And a leader without courage has no place leading others. So step aside.

3. The final explanation is, “I knew about it and I was involved.” Well, this is easy. This means the leader is unethical and hence has no role leading the organization. He has to go. Maybe even go to prison.

These are the only possible explanations for the presence of ongoing, endemic corruption in an organization. Incompetence, lack of courage, or unethical behavior are the choices, none of them acceptable to a discerning shareholder or voter.

Great captains have brains, courage, and character. Shareholders deserve this. Voters deserve this.

If you are not willing to go down with your ship, well, then, don’t take a seat in the captain’s chair.

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