When Mary spoke at our PwC Fraud Academy event this morning she shared her personal experiences of “blowing the whistle” on her boss some years back. What struck me and others in the room was the very real and powerful effects on her.
At one level she simply did the right thing, having found evidence of invoicing fraud. But it was much more than this. The sense of disbelief – could my boss have really done this? The agony of not knowing who to trust. The suspicion that others might be involved. And the fear. Fear of consequences for herself – “maybe people will think I’m involved” – or at least culpable for not having picked it up, and the fear of what her boss might do.
As it turned out, after her boss was confronted by senior management she was confronted by him: “What have you done? They’re accusing me of all manner of things“.
Nasty stuff and not things we hope we’ll ever face in the workplace.
Leaders will typically prepare for crisis events: spring into action for natural disasters and man-made events. Preparing ourselves for confronting the worst aspects of the human condition requires drawing on our innermost resources and life experiences.
Mary left and we wrapped up the session with a few words about the importance of transparent and visible whistleblower services.
As our audience left one woman came up to me and asked me to ensure that we properly thanked Mary for her bravery “I just wanted to hug her” she said.
We visited the Erebus memorial at Waikumete Cemetery yesterday on the Authentic Leadership Programme. Then we travelled back to Waitakere Estate through the beautiful Scenic Drive and watched a powerful movie of corporate greed and fraud.
Our natural instincts are that we wouldn’t get involved in that sort of activity – we wouldn’t cover up the mishandling of the flight path that might have caused a plane crash – we wouldn’t sacrifice our values and integrity for money, would we?
We’d hope not. But circumstances can make people do things that they wouldn’t think they are capable of. I know, I’ve seen it in multiple fraud cases over the years. When I was at the Serious Fraud Office, most of the people we prosecuted didn’t start out as crooks. But a combinations of circumstances (pressure or greed), opportunity (no one can see) and justification (I deserve it or it’s mine) can turn ordinary, honest men and women into criminals.
So what to do about it? I think of my values as my valuables – I try not to leave them lying around, I protect them and I know where they are at all times. Of course there’s a lot more to it but that’s a good start.
We should also pay attention to our lies. Sound confronting? Wise leaders are intentionally clear about their communication and don’t use weasel words that allow for mis-interpretation.
As I write this the leaders on the Programme are recording those five ethical considerations that they won’t allow to be compromised. Then they’re drafting a legacy.
One goes with the other.
I can’t tell you right now but if you complete PwC’s Global Fraud and Economic Crime Survey you have the opportunity for a personalised report comparing you with the rest of our survey respondents.
You can complete the survey here.