After I recently posted my thoughts on Jonathan Swift’s great book Gulliver’s Travels – published in 1726 – it suddenly dawned on me that we can also learn more from the picture when looking at it through the ethics lens.

A person – and especially a leader – is “Compromised” when he or she can’t take the actions that they should under specific circumstances because one or more people may know of and have proof of inappropriate, unethical or illegal actions that he or she may have taken. A classic example is that of a diplomat or a politician who is caught in a “honey trap”. Because he or she is mortified by the consequences of being outed, he or she can no longer act freely and are also vulnerable to extortion and blackmail and may actually be forced to take actions that they shouldn’t or not take actions that they should!

When a computer is compromised it means that you can’t trust the integrity of any file (program, document, spreadsheet, image, etc.) on this computer.

The lesson from Gulliver is that these inappropriate, unethical or illegal actions often start small (like the first bindings that the Lilliputians attached to Gulliver) and can easily be rectified if dealt with firmly and immediately. But, like the many ropes that eventually completely immobilised Gulliver, unless these inappropriate, unethical or illegal actions cease or are indeed dealt with they will result in a leader being completely “tied up”. He or she will become a lame duck who would be completely unable to take action against his own team members who may themselves be guilty of unacceptable behaviour.

This was brought home to me last year when I discussed the situation at one of my client organisations with my contact who is a senior middle manager. I expressed my concern as to why, despite significant substantive reports having been received, no disciplinary action had yet been taken against those accused. His response was that everyone knows that because the CEO is a serial rule-breaker and is having an affair with his PA and a senior female in the accounts department, his hands are effectively tied behind his back and he is unlikely to act against anyone in the company!

It’s common knowledge that consequence management is a critical success factor of any strategy to build an ethical organisation and an ethical country and now, more than ever, we are desperately in need of honest, ethical and uncompromised leaders!

If you’re a leader, how are you doing?