The Skilling TrapMark Gimein wrote a great analysis of the Enron scandal in Business Week. In The Skilling Trap, he hits the nail on the head.
He responds to Jeffrey Skilling’s comments to reporters on the steps of the courthouse after being convicted of fraud and conspiracy: "Obviously I'm disappointed. But that's the way the system works." Gimein comments:
But there's more to it. "That's the way the system works." It's a strange thing for a man to say who has been convicted of 19 separate criminal charges. Reduced to words on a page, you can imagine the tone to be bitter or accusing. But it's not. Nor is it gallows humor, a tip of the hat to the prosecutors who won their case, but something more poignant.It’s easy to blame the system, but the system isn’t something outside ourselves, some vast unseen force putting pressure on us to do things we don’t want to do. We are the system. It works that way because we work that way. It won’t change until we do. Adding more laws can’t protect us from ourselves. What is lacking here is character and the integrity to maintain right principles even at a personal loss. Gimein continues and address the spirit of the law:
But what made Enron possible was not a lack of rules. It was an unwillingness to think about regulation and responsibility in any but the most legalistic terms.The Skilling Trap is that trap you fall into when you don’t see beyond the letter of the law. Sadly most laws are in place because we substitute what’s legal for what’s ethical. They are not the same. It’s a tug of war we have all experienced. Ethical addresses what should I do. Legal is about what do I have to do. If legal is the only consideration then caution is the watchword. Ethics is about principles and responsibilities.
As Mark Gimein observes, the issue is failure to deal with the spirit of the law. If your actions are right but your attitude is wrong, it will eventually catch up with you. When leaders are looking out for themselves—when leaders are in it for what they can get not for what they can give—we have Enrons. Leadership is about service and looking out for those you are responsible for. Some readers will yawn at this, but character is a real issue with real consequences.
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