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Kern County Business Ethics and Leadership Conference 2012

24 Mar

Kern County Business Ethics and Leadership Conference 2012

By Dr. Ernie Zarra


Thanks to all of the sponsors.

I would like to address a few things about leadership in my remarks this morning.

So, hold on and allow me to challenge us all before we head back to our schools, places of business, and others places of employment.

One of the best things about being human is that we are able to make decisions.  It is also one of the worst things about being human.

Decisions are actually choices that involve or affect others in the real world.  They also have outcomes that either build up, or tear down the reputations of these same people.

When it comes to living, we know the right things to do, but there are times when we choose expediency over honesty.  You see, expediency focuses on a “what’s in it for me” outcome of a choice, or choosing just to make it through some experience at the moment.

Expediency is that choice to do what it “right” for me, over what is right, overall.

There are many examples of this across politics, and yes even in schools.  But when we resort to expediency, we choose mediocrity over truth.  Today we need leaders whose lives and practices are based in truth.  So, in leading, shun expediency and mediocrity.  But love and practice truth.

The kind of ethic that hides the truth is an ethic of avoidance.  I won’t go into the psychology part, but suffice to say that there is a fear many of us have:  A fear of failing.

There are other fears we have as leaders, such as a fear of confrontation, and a flat-out apprehensiveness toward the unknown—and even a fear of not being liked because of our decisions.  Fear paralyzes decision-making.

Why is it we have such a terrible time telling each other the truth about the way we feel, or the way things just have to be?  Could it be that one of the tools of good leadership is not yet fully developed?  Do we lack the ability of putting others first and walking in their shoes?  Or could it be that we cannot properly frame the truth with tact?  In leading, I encourage all of us to be bold and brave.

With an ethic of expediency we choose to soften the blow of information if it is to have an adverse effect upon others. When we do this, we act as if the communication is our fault and that we must preface the information with an apology of sorts.  This is the “Please still like me” approach.

People in leadership often have an issue with being accepted after making decisions—even when the decisions are the correct ones for many people.  Acceptance seems more important than respect in today’s society.  Leaders lead, even when acceptance of that leadership falls short of personal expectation.  However, focus on being an empathetic leader of people who respect you as a person and disagreements will begin to be shaped differently.

Expediency is often seen in the actions of what we call diplomacy.  We embellish stories and stretch the truth to be nice, to try to ease the listener’s pain, or avoid accountability by running ourselves down with a false humility.  All of this is done to lift up another person, but we must ask ourselves are we being genuine to our calling as leaders, or expedient to gain someone’s support?  Personal relationships and leadership of people are not focused on “selling things” to others.

Expediency sometimes comes across as syrup being poured slowly from a bottle.  It’s smooth in its delivery, but pour just a little too much–and suddenly we are gagged with sweetness.

Nothing demonstrates this better than making excuses for behaviors at school, during sporting events from the stands, or missing class when tired.  Ever claimed to be sick on days when assignments are due?  Expediency avoids the truth as we choose what is right for the moment for us.  The same is true in business.  If we cut corners to make a profit, or to diminish quality of product or service, we lost some of our personal credibility.

As leaders, we all simply look weak when we do things like these.  No matter how one slices this, it is unethical and teaches a very poor principle; namely: avoidance is acceptable.

Ethical leaders are examples of rightness, both in word and deed.  Ethical leaders are people of trusted character—even when no one is watching.  It has been said that we get better at what we practice.  So, what are we practicing?

As leaders we all must learn to be authentic, to confront, to take personal responsibility, and to ask for forgiveness over many things.  Then we must work to make things right when our choices cause concerns.

Humility is an excellent trait for a leader.  However, humility to gain something other than being humble is another example of expediency.  As many of you know, we cannot be fearful of conflict, or pain.  If what needs to be done is the right thing to do, we need to do it!  Today we desperately need authentic leaders.  So, be authentic, even if it means losing power in doing so.  Contrary to expediency, lasting respect from others brings greater reward in the long-run.

Our challenge is to continue to be honest because it is the right thing to do.  Again, we know what’s right.  Is there anything in your life that is keeping you from being the leader you are meant to be?  If so, give yourself permission to let it go!  Then let it go.

Taking responsibility for things that we say and do just seems like something passé. Today we are told that words and actions do not have to line up. In fact, words are used by some leaders as justification for ill-behaving actions.  Isn’t this quite annoying?

Mixed messages are just that:  Mixed!  More often than not, mixed messages result in greater confusion, than if we just kept quiet to begin with.

Take, for example, the sign that was tacked to a tree near a Catholic convent: “No trespassing! Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law–Sisters of Mercy.”  We call that a mixed message.  Do we come across in this same way, because of mixed messages between our words and actions?

As an educator, I work in the trenches daily.  As students, community leaders, and business folks, we are all entrusted with power.  As the son of a small business leader, I can attest to many of the things I have spoken of this morning.  Suffice to say, there is great responsibility with power.  It is true that to whom much is given, much is required.

As a teacher, the moment I say one thing and do not follow-up with actions that align with my words, my students are quick to call me out on it–and rightly so!

If leaders seek to be true leaders, there is no fear in losing power when corrections are made in the name of truth.  Truth makes leaders better.  Besides, if it did not make leaders better, why would you or I seek to exercise leadership in the first place?  Expediency reduces reputation.  Always remember, there is no such thing as a leader who has only himself or herself to follow.

In closing, let me challenge us to be leaders who are:



Bold and Brave






If you develop and practice these leadership traits, and these become the foundation of your choices, do these things, you cannot but help to be a leader concerned with ethics.

After all, it would be unethical not to be.

Thank you!

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