Recently I was asked to speak at a conference where my assigned topic was “things that keep me up at night.” I offered three subjects: 1) my five-year-old daughter; 2) my new puppy; or 3) the neighbor kid who appears to be learning every conceivable percussion instrument. The sound of crickets indicated that I misunderstood the assignment. On the topic of ethics, two “ripped from the headlines” situations concern me, and prompted me to give serious reflection on the effectiveness of our business ethics programs.
The first situation involves the seemingly cavalier way that otherwise successful individuals jeopardize their careers through the pursuit of curious dalliances. The incomprehensibility of these ethical collapses is confirmed by these well-known examples: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Mark Hurd, Anthony Weiner, David Wu and so on. It’s well beyond the scope of this column and my expertise to explain why these individuals acted in such a manner, but their willingness to do so compels us to ask whether business ethics programs are capable of protecting organizations from these types of ethical failures.