The Ernest Becker Foundation
|Cal St. U. Long Beach: Overcoming Toxic Leadership: Leading with Integrity and Self-Awareness|
|Written by Paul Reese|
|Monday, 27 September 2010 12:21|
EBF joined with Cal State University Long Beach College of Business Administration, and the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership on Friday, September 24th at the CSULB campus for a ground breaking conference of intellectual alchemy. The aim of the program was set high: to illuminate and elevate human relations in the two core areas of Integrity and Self-Awareness, to take a step on the path of overcoming toxic leadership in organizations and to examine the toxic roots of the attraction to leaders inherent in the human psyche.
Does the word “Interdisciplinary” come to mind? It should. Conference organizer Jon Monat (Professor, CSULB, College of Business) put together an eclectic list of academic and business leaders to shine the light of their broad experience on the topic. The amalgamation included our own Henry Richards and Sheldon Solomon on the psychological insights of Ernest Becker, Solomon then expanded the discussion with an introduction to the results of research in the field of Terror Management Theory, and Jean Blumen-Lipman next engaged the conference with an insightful discussion of her research into Overcoming Toxic Leadership. Students, too, were key presenters. A team of CSULB business ethics students presented original research prepared for an ECOA (Ethics & Compliance Officers Association) competition into the corporate response by Foxconn & Apple to the epidemic of suicides of Chinese manufacturing workers at one of Apple Computer’s primary vendors in China, Foxconn. All this before lunch!
Jon Monat and conference co-organizer Jane Roeder (Managing Director of the Ukleja Center) were saving some heavy artillery to combat the after lunch doldrums. Through the auspices of the Southern California Business Ethics Roundtable the conference organizers managed to book four senior executive leaders from business and government to break down the topic of “Ethical Leadership in Corporations.” Roz Bliss, Corporate Administrator, Ethics and Business Conduct, Northrop Grumman Corporation; Eric R. Feldman, Senior Advisor to the Director for Procurement Integrity & Procurement Integrity Ombudsman in the National Reconnaissance Office, US Central Intelligence Agency; Pamela J. Garretson, Director for Ethics and Business Conduct Operations at the Boeing Company; and Marianne Wisner, who in her career served both as Principal Compliance Officer of Activision Blizzard, Inc. and as a Staff Attorney in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement investigating and litigating complex securities fraud matters.
The conference attendees numbered well over a hundred and no one left the room before the “Ethical Leadership in Corporations” panel held their ninety minute discussion after lunch. The panel was well balanced, two business ethics leaders from large global corporations heavily involved in US government contracting, a government Procurement Integrity Ombudsman charged with investigating government contractor ethical integrity, and one corporate ethics officer from the new high tech arena. Ms. Bliss and Garretson of Northrop Grumman and Boeing made abundantly clear the high priority their organizations placed on ethics, some highly publicized lapses in years gone by energizing their current very successful efforts. They both pointed out that ethical compliance externally is driven by the market and internally is driven by the need for efficient results. Ms. Wiseman entertained with stories of the more difficult task of introducing ethical compliance in the extremely young male corporate culture of an online gaming publisher. Her “twenty-something” workforce of creative computer programmers, she said, was aghast at the thought of any type of housekeeping, and ethics it seemed to them, at first, was just so much corporate housekeeping. Her task was formidable, but did gain some traction. Mr. Feldman detailed the relatively new and extensive ethical self reporting stipulations enforced on government contractors. At the contractor level he sees a high level of compliance, but the sub-contractors, he said, are the wild west of ethical compliance. As the links in the supply chain move further from the primary contractors the violations become ever more egregious and difficult to enforce. The student presentation of the Apple / Foxconn story provided an immediate and emotionally charged example of this phenomenon.
The corporate panel ended with a discussion of the broader social roots of unethical behavior. They detailed how a broad problem with ethics in the corporate world has placed a high value on work history at a company known for high ethical standards when searching for new employees. The many students in attendance may have been surprised to hear that it is high ethical standards, not an ends justify the means mindset, that impresses today’s major corporate employers. Mr. Feldman evidenced the broad social deterioration in ethical behavior with some rather bleak statistics on the massive increase in student cheating at all levels of education in the last 30 years. Studies of anonymous self reporting by students of cheating in school have risen from 20% in 1975 to 80% of students in 2005. This trend runs through all levels of education, from high school through graduate school. Laughter erupted in the audience when he noted that the graduate students pursuing an MBA scored highest in prevalence of cheating behavior. Not one to leave the conference on the brink of despair, Mr. Feldman recapped the twice defeated, but ultimately successful, legislative effort to expand the federal government’s stiff regimen of contractor self reporting of ethical violations (complete with of high financial and criminal penalties) to the previously exempt realm of overseas (read that war zone) contractors in 2007.
Energized with a glimpse of the jewel of insight and newly aware of ethical struggles fought and those that lie ahead the people at the conference wandered out into what was a perfectly lovely, sunny Southern California Friday afternoon. More important weekend plans were on their minds, but with the germ of a new idea forming inside.
Paul Reese moderated the panel above. A member of the Becker Foundation, he has been involved in the transportation /supply chain logistics business for 25 years, with The Boeing Company for the last 6. Long interested in corporate ethics, though not a member of Boeing’s Office of Internal Governance Ethics and Business Conduct, he appreciates that it places a large corporate focus on creating an ethical culture.
9:00 a.m. Welcome- Michael Solt- Dean, College of Business Administration; Director, Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership
9:05 a.m. Overview of Agenda- Jon Monat
9:10 a.m. Introduction to the Work of Ernest Becker- Sheldon Solomon
10:00 a.m. Overcoming Toxic Leadership: The Path to Effective Management- Jean Lipman-Blumen
10:45 a.m. Break
11:00 a.m. Ethical Leadership at Foxcon/Apple: What Went Wrong?- Kathleen Lacey and CSULB Students (from ECOA competition)
11:45 p.m. Buffet Lunch
12:30 p.m. Ethical Leadership in Corporations- SCBER Roundtable Members
1:30 p.m. Panel on TMT Research- CSULB Faculty Researchers
2:15 p.m. Break
2:30 p.m. Comments on TMT Research- Sheldon Solomon and Jean Lipman-Blumen
3:30 p.m. - The Relevance of Becker's Values to Leadership Practice- Henry Richards, Executive Director-Elect Ernest Becker Foundation
4:15 p.m. Wrap up and Evaluations- Jane Roeder, Managing Director, Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership
4:30 p.m. Program Concludes- Jon MonatFeature film "Flight From Death," was shown Thursday afternoon.