February 2009 Archives

retirement_rocks.jpgSome people think it is part of my job to lie. I don't mean in my work with Spirit Lake Consulting, but as president of the United States Judo Association. I have been given arguments that "in the best interests of the organization", you can't tell someone that their appeal has not been heard because five of the board members are unhappy that their friend is not president so they are refusing to attend meetings or vote.

All sorts of bad things could happen.

  • People who very much deserved to be expelled, for example, who molested young children, could argue that shows the organization does not have due process, and so get away scot-free.
  • Donors may consider us not a very functional organization, so not give as much money.
  • People who feel obligated to those other board members could vote against us and we could lose the next election.

Now, I don't want child molesters to be roaming around refereeing tournaments and coaching children. I want there to be enough funds to support deserving players and coaches to attend camps for continuing education. I do want responsible, honest people elected to the board.

Guess what, though? If I don't respond to someone's request for information about their appeal because it might have one of those effects, am I a responsible person? If I mislead people about how effectively (or ineffectively) some board members are operating, am I an honest person?

In another job, I had completed analysis of data showing departmental performance. Then, there was a meeting about how we didn't want to make these data available to anyone. When I asked why, I was told that people might use the information against us. This didn't make any sense at all to me. Why would we create knowledge and then hide it? Even crazier was the fact that the departments' performance was very good. Apparently, the institution had an entire group whose job was to try to keep any information from getting out on the off-chance that someone, somewhere might misinterpret it in some way. In this case, I got paid and no one asked me to lie about the results, so I just went away shaking my head.

This whole experience reminded me of the article by Susan Cramm, "Don't use smart technologies to do dumb things". One example she gave in that article was a company that invested in noise-masking equipment to keep their employees from hearing executives' discussions about layoffs.

Are these individuals unethical also? To varying extents, yes. I think hiding information goes against the spirit of the principle of honesty. In the first case, I was going to say no harm came of it, but I think some did, for the individuals involved. I believe they lost the respect of others present, including me. When you hide information from your coworkers and subordinates,  they begin to lose trust in you. Of course there are times when you must keep information in confidence, for example, you are a person in Human Resources and you know that Mary has been approved for leave because she is receiving inpatient treatment for alcohol addiction. Letting others know that information is a violation of her right to privacy.

In answering the question when is it right to hide information, I think a good question to ask is, "Are you inclined to lie or hide information because you are afraid of the consequences?"

In other words, are you being less than completely forthcoming due to a lack of courage? Are you afraid of the results if you tell the truth? Are you hiding information because you are afraid to face the consequences?

As Cramm said, it makes a lot more sense to face up to the problems causing layoffs rather than to hide information from your employees.

Is lack of courage a justification for lack of honesty?
I'd be lying if I said yes.
by Willie Davis

Growing up on an Indian reservation over some 46 plus years I have learned a great deal about how our tribal leaders have made some unethical decisions. This includes the unethical practices that have been going on for years. From hiring a sibling or spouse with tribal funds, to using their position to grant them the ability to acquire land on behalf of the tribal members, but in fact was transferred into another family member's name. These are just a few examples.

 I can remember back some years ago (some 30 years ago). Back in those days, the Tribal Council was not paid and if so, it was real minimal, as compared to today, where the average salary of the Council is nearly $50,000. And with this increase in salary has come a power struggle or sense of ownership by the Council. Rather than working toward community and tribal membership issues and concerns, they spend their work hours dealing with things of a personal nature. Basically, the people are not being represented very well. It's even to the point where most tribal members' concerns and opinions are not represented or taken into consideration.
When a Tribal Council member is asked about their perspective about why they made that decision or voted in favor of hiring a close family member, they often reply by saying,
 "I have that ability because it is in the constitution and our tribal members need jobs."

Many of us tribal members do not have a problem in creating employment opportunities, but all tribal members need to be considered when offering these opportunities. It is attitudes like these that make it very difficult in changing the minds of our tribal leaders. It would be nice if the majority of tribal members took the mismanagement of tribal funds more seriously. I have come to the realization that our people will put up with just about anything, as long as it doesn't personally affect them.

There have been a small minority of tribal members who want to do something about re-structuring the tribal government. But, is this the answer? Because people's mindsets will be prevalent, no matter what position or pay you give them. What needs to happen is for our community to saturate our leaders with training, workshops, in-services, and constant reminders of how, "we as tribal members want them to lead us". After all, leadership can only take their lead and be as good as those who follow. We need to keep them in check. To make sure all tribal members needs and concerns are represented.
I would like to conclude by stating that the practice of unethical behaviors in tribal government is not exclusive. There seems to be this problem, troubling our nation, community programs, agencies and businesses. A lot of the people carry the view that politeness is something that should only be shared to a family or friend. Perhaps this has come from the constant attitude that we should out do or somehow compete against our neighbor, rather than to be more considerate and help each others.  I would suggest that politicians keep in mind more, our rich Ojibwa traditions and culture, as the Annishinabaug, "the first people".

Willie Davis is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. In his long and illustrious career he has been voted Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor of the Year by his peers, worked as a counselor, trainer and consultant in disability services. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota.

I have seen good people become, if not actively evil, certainly not good any more. This has happened often enough in my life and disturbed me enough, that I have tried to figure out what happened. I don't believe people are born evil. Despite all of the challenges in the world, plenty of people reach young adulthood and sometimes even middle age as relatively ethical human beings - honesty, loyal, trustworthy, generous.

Perhaps the ethical values they really lack are courage and fortitude. Here is what I have seen happen. Someone, let's call her Donna, gets appointed or elected to a position. She promised changes in all of the abuses seen in giving preferential treatment to relatives, programs where workers put in 25 hours and were paid for 40, expenses charged for travel that didn't happen and more. She honestly meant every word she said. Donna got her position because people in the community respected her. She had always done a good job, worked hard, been fair with her employees and helpful to her coworkers.

In her first month on the job, a vote comes up in tribal council on the budget for a program Donna believes is very important to the community, even though the director is someone who has a lot of political enemies. Mark casts the deciding vote and the program keeps its funding.

Three weeks later, Donna comes across proof that Mark has taken about $2,000 in tribal equipment and given it to his son to use in his own business. She takes this information to the business manager who gently advises,

"You are new here and Mark could be a powerful enemy. Don't you remember how he voted your way on that program? If he hadn't, all of those people would not be getting the services they need. That is a $400,000 a year budget. Do you want to risk that for a measly $2,000? Just pretend you never found out about this."

Donna takes this advice and does not say a word. She reasons that she needs Mark as an ally, especially with that cranky Alan on the council, who votes against everything, when he does show up and not sleep through the meetings. What about all of those people who really need services and, if Mark and Alan voted against them, would just be without meals on wheels, day care, tutoring and treatment programs. Donna really cares about the community and seeing the best happen.

A few months go by and Donna notices a program manager loading a case of printer paper in her car. Later, she hears a relative of the manager saying how nice it is that she does not have to buy school supplies for her five children because her auntie brings them over, and how much of a help that is.

Donna tells herself that families are very important in our tradition, the manager is not doing it for herself and, besides, why make an enemy over $25 worth of paper?

Edmund Burke, in the 18th century, said,
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Over 2,000 years earlier, Plato said, The greatest penalty of evildoing - namely, to grow into the likeness of bad men.

This is what inevitably happens to people like Donna. Sure enough, six months more go by and there is a conference in Hawaii. Donna really doesn't need to go to the conference, but she reasons that she never takes equipment like Mark, she doesn't give office supplies out, she attends every meeting and works every day. Besides, she could bring her daughter, and that would be a very good experience for her. Her daughter has missed out because of all of Donna's work and now here is her chance to benefit.

Do you notice what happened here? Donna fought hard to get her position because she sincerely wanted to make a change. Yet, once she was there, step by step, and with the best of intentions and explanations, she became like the people in the system she was determined to change.

There are some people who get elected to council or accept a committee appointment thinking at that moment, "Now it's my turn to get mine." A lot of workers, though, really do start out with the intention to do well. Bit by bit, they slide into justifications and habits of taking the easy way.

The root causes, I think, are a lack of courage and fortitude, which I think are two sides of the same virtue. Courage is overcoming your fears and doing the right thing, and perseverance is persisting in doing what is right, even in the face of opposition.

The quote,
"As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."

was from Representative Barbara Lee when she cast the ONLY vote in congress against authorizing President Bush to use force as necessary - this was three days after September 11, 2001. She explained her vote as an act of conscience. She knew the vote would pass anyway but she sincerely believed it put civil liberties at risk and did not restrict the president's power to wage war, both actions not in the best interest of the American people. So, the vote passed the house 420 -1 .

Do you think Representative Lee was the only one in the house that day who had reservations about the bill? Her questions and concerns were not uncommon, but her courage was.

It really is a slippery slope from the agent for change to part of the system. Sadly, I have to say that it is a rare person who does not slide down it. I think I know how this happens. What  I don't know is why? What is the difference between the Donnas and the Barbara Lees of the world? Is it as simple as courage and strength?