When it comes to corruption, the Four Horsemen of the Ethical Apocalypse remain: Money, Power, Influence and Arrogance.
In a 2006 survey that I conducted with Zogby International and the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis, Americans have decidedly low levels of trust and confidence in its leadership. “Most Americans,” the Center says, “have moved beyond thinking of violations of honesty and trust as the problem of a few ‘rotten apples,’ but instead view our major institutions as a ‘rotten barrel’ problem…”
When asked, “What two or three specific changes would have to take place in order to improve your trust in government?”the top three, write-in responses were: “Personnel changes/Impeachment proceedings; Curtail or eliminate lobbying/Minimize cronyism; and Campaign finance reform.”
More than ever, Americans want to see their elected officials live up to their responsibilities with greater transparency, less greed and partisanship and a lot more integrity.
When asked for specific changes regarding corporations, the top two responses were: “Do something about CEO salary/Compensation,” and “More transparency.”
The media was also cited as having low levels of confidence. When asked for specific recommendations to improve honesty and trust in America, more than 8,000 respondents called for “A fair and balanced media.” Additionally: “Stop the spin and tabloid nonsense; Report more positive role models; End reality TV; Stop rewarding and fawning over corrupt celebrities and athletes.”
Assessing more than 25,000 responses calling for solutions, Americans believe that something is critically wrong in the country, but can’t quite put their finger on it until the issue of ethics and leadership is raised. There are very few issues that affect approximately three-quarters of society, and this issue – honesty and trust – is running below the political radar.
Based on the survey’s findings, here are Six Lessons for Leadership to consider:
Greater Accountability – Political and corporate leaders need to be held to the same ethical standards as the rest of us.
Independent Oversight – Corporate boards need to recognize that ethics is not about technical compliance, it’s about going beyond the law to exercise sound, ethical judgment for ALLstakeholders. And political leaders should not be any more exempt from independent oversight than corporations.
More Transparency – Americans are no longer willing to go along with “business as usual.” They expect to know exactlyhow that business is conducted and for whose benefit.
Ethics Training – All leadership should be required to participate in on-going ethics training. Corporate and political leaders need to walk the same walk that’s required of employees and staff.
Corporate Boards need firm, ethical standards – Shareholders need to press the issue of implementing firm, ethical standards on their boards, and the boards, themselves need to be resolute in their action against all wrong-doing from the top down.
Media Needs to Take a Greater Role – Americans are sick and tired of “Spin, Reality-TV, and Fawning over corrupt celebrities and athletes;” Americans want to: “End celebrity worship; Less focus on gossip and sensationalism; Publicize instances of trust and honesty; Work on the Cable News channels to increase their integrity and honest unbiased reporting of matters.”
We’ve got serious issues in this country, and if Americans no longer trust that their political and corporate leadership is meeting it’s responsibilities in dealing with those issues in an ethical manner, new leadership is required – the kind of leadership that responds to the interests of all, rather than the few.
In the final question, “What two or three specific changes would have to take place in order to improve honesty and trust?” Americans are telling America’s leadership and the media just what is needed:
“We need to stop rewarding the most adept liars and cheaters with great wealth and success.”
“We need to hold up people of character as role models.”
“We need a media that… actually does some investigation into important issues not trivial ones.”
“We need less media pundits… [that] do nothing but spread hatred in order to make themselves more popular.”
“We need to remind each other that we are all Americans… we’re not Republicans or Democrats, Liberal or Conservative, Left or Right.”
“We need… leaders who communicate openly with the people.”
“We need more statesmen as leaders.”
If we’re ever going to bring about positive change in our culture we need ethics – now more than ever!
To read the full report > Honesty and Trust in America