Headlines in the sports pages today read, “Australian ball-tampering: Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft apologise.” No doubt, those into cricket have a particular view on damaging the ball to gain an advantage in bowling so you can win the game. For those of us who aren’t cricketers, we wonder how rubbing a ball a bit would make a difference, but one thing is clear that the action of those involved puts questions about their character and integrity as it is clear they were trying to cheat. As I read the article http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/43580069 one phrase jumped out at me, "It was a failure of my leadership,"
In my work with Emerging Leaders and their Leadership for Life training, we teach the importance of heart and character in leadership. Our ‘Heart’ as a leader is who we live for. Our ‘Character’ is who walks through the door when no-one is looking.
Our character, who we are and the integrity of how we live our life, starts in the simplest of places. It starts in our thoughts. Each day thoughts enter our heads and we have decisions to make in how we deal with them. Our thoughts lead to feelings and how we manage those thoughts and feeling will lead to an action. The more we take that action, the more it becomes a habit and once a habit it becomes part of the automatic part of the brain and becomes part of our character.
Our character is like a garden that needs weeding every day before the weeds take over the garden and then it is so hard to clear them.
So our character doesn’t happen by accident. It is about conscious decisions we make. The scandal of someone cheating, whether in sport, in a job or in relationships seem to hit the news on a daily basis. In the vast majority of cases this has not been an overnight sudden change of character. It starts small. For example recently my family and I went to a pub for a meal. When I was presented with the bill they had missed off the first round of drinks. The thought enters the head, “well it’s their mistake, I asked for the bill.” But that thought, if repeated leads to a habit of that and then it becomes so much easier to accept the next step up of deceit. Well imagine the shock on the bar tenders face when I explained there were drinks missing off the bill. “We normally get people asking to take drinks off the bill, not add them to it,” was his answer to me as I pointed out the error. Our character is who walks through the door when no-one is looking, or when we could get away with it.
How to weed your garden
Now, it is easy to be hard on those caught out in a scandal. But remember it only takes a few or even one poor decision in the leadership of yourself to be on the slippery slope of character degeneration. There, but for the grace of God, goes us. So how do we avoid it?
1) Weed your garden every day
Ask yourself how would it look if I was to be found out? What story would it tell? Is it good, right, honourable? Is it something I want to be known for? If it isn’t - then don’t do it. Ask yourself would I like this done to me? If you wouldn’t then don’t do it.
2) Build a trusted network
Meet regularly with someone or a group who will hold you to account. Build a trusting relationship and share near misses with them. Share weaknesses you have and ask them to ask you how they are doing each time you meet or chat on the phone. The aviation industry review near misses to ensure real accidents don’t happen. Allow that ‘black box’ review into your thinking and your trusted relationship to avoid the scandal.
3) Seek advice
If you are unsure of something, then ask a trusted colleague or coach. As a basic rule of thumb, if you are unsure if it is the right thing to do, then it probably is. But ask yourself and your trusted counsel whether it is ‘good, right or honourable’ and how it would look in the press.
Now, you may ask why should I consider these things. Surely I just need to be successful. But remember, being a leader means that you need to be worthy to follow. That is true of your character, as much as in your ideas or vision. Having a character of integrity and having values of honesty, truthfulness and honour, mean that people will follow you to the ends of the earth. . . . and you appear in the papers for the right thing and not having to confess and apologise for the shame and problems your action caused.