It’s easy given the current corporate news stream to let your mind wander and wonder if the new model for “effective” leadership is characterized by a win-at-all-costs approach. The old model that emphasized character and values seems to have been outmuscled in favor of an approach that is tied exclusively to the scoreboard of revenues, profits and compensation.

Don’t get me wrong: I love growth, profits and good compensation as much as the next person. However, when the schemes for driving those outcomes beget ethical or potentially criminal lapses, something is wrong. When the leaders accountable for enabling these questionable activities dodge accountability, something stinks.

Compensation schemes don’t write or administer themselves. Faulty schemes—those that open the door to extreme and aberrant behaviors never see the light of day in every other business I’ve encountered.

Values are only valuable if they are on display in every decision every single day. The thinly veiled defense that some people violated the values is laughable. It’s not acceptable as an excuse or even an explanation. Leadership owns this.

Corporate compensation programs that promise the equivalent of the bonus lottery to small groups of decision-making executives cannot possibly seem like a good idea to anyone but the direct beneficiaries. When you can reasonably connect the compensation plan to life or death circumstances for even one of your current or potential customers you have crossed a line.

And yes, cross selling and up-selling are powerful approaches for growing a business. But when the scheme for pursuing those approaches quietly legitimizes behaviors that by any outside observer involve misleading your customers, it is fatally flawed.

Numbers on paper have no emotions. They are just the mathematical manifestation of a game of monopoly. If someone dies or many suffer or many are misled because of the reality distortion field imposed by win at all costs schemes and targets, it becomes clear that what we might define as effective (or values-based) leadership has gone missing in action.

The new approach seems to say: there’s no need to be accountable to aberrant behaviors if the goal of winning is achieved.

The Bottom Line:

Reject that approach. Profits are good. Growth is good. However, there’s nothing acceptable about getting there by distorting reality, compromising values, abusing trust and enriching yourselves at the expense of those dependent upon you.

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Related: A Model for Effective Leadership

Practical Lessons in Leadership

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Art Petty is a coachspeaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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