On Leadership, Lying and Breaking The Honor Code

When a large, trusted and well-established institution gets caught in a public lie, the entire code of honor is at risk of failure. Leading like this is poisonous to the entire entity and everything for which it stands. 

When honor is broken, what comes next?

How Emory University Failed Its Own Honor Code

The revelation (see related article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) by leaders at Emory University that a former Dean of Admissions had been supplying false data (lying) when reporting the SAT scores and Class Ranking of  incoming students has been a great disappointment to the city of Atlanta, and a revelation throughout the country.

If high-level leaders at a university renown for quality education and ethical values are violating the very basic rule of honor–tell the truth–then what must be going on elsewhere?

In fact, this is not the first revelation of such false reporting by a university trying to gain an edge in competing for annual rankings in sources like US News & World Report.

As in other professions, it appears that for some leaders, any means can be justified when the end goal has implications of gaining power, money, and influence or protecting their prestige or position.

Widespread Leadership Issue

We have become accustomed to seeing dishonorable leaders in politics–after all, they thrive on publicity and when they get in trouble, their high profile role makes them magnets for media attention.

But, when we learn that administrators from a highly regarded university are playing just as dirty as many back room politicians or businesspeople, we must conclude that the problem is deep and wide, transcending every profession at every level.

We should not be surprised; after all, we are all cut from the same cloth—we are fallible and flawed human beings.

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Living By Your Words

The Emory University honor code, as posted online, has as its very first point, “…the University community assumes high standards of courtesy, integrity and responsibility in all of its members.”  But we make a great mistake when we assume integrity, even our own.  Events such as this provide a reminder that we must know ourselves and regularly check our own moral compass.

“Trying to take the easy way based on fear is taking out good men and women at a rapid pace.  We all suffer each time one falls. We tend to become more cynical, and at the same time our cultural standards of right and wrong drop another notch.”

Every day we face decisions that have honor implications and we must regularly re-examine our commitments and behaviors.  Additionally, we need to regularly seek counsel from close comrades who have very high standards who will give us counsel on our questionable decisions.

The bottom line is that we can’t assume that we (or others) are above dishonorable behavior.

We are most at risk when we become afraid about what could happen. Trying to take the easy way based on fear is taking out good men and women at a rapid pace.  We all suffer each time one falls. We tend to become more cynical, and at the same time our cultural standards of right and wrong drop another notch.

Going Back to Our Foundation as Leaders

The foundation for living and leading with honor is courage.  Every day we will be faced with fears and temptations to take the easy way out.  Only with a commitment to a code of honor will we have the courage to choose to do the right thing, because the right thing is usually the hard way.

Remember, all discipline in the moment seems difficult, but in the end brings peace and true success.

Do you assume your integrity?  What are you doing to make this assumption a reality in your life?  Do you have someone with whom you discuss difficult decisions, someone who can give counsel based on high standards and an objective viewpoint?

I hope you will join in this discussion and share your experiences.  Do you agree that it’s dangerous to assume your integrity?  How do you manage this key area of your life?

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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

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Lee Ellis


Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | Book | Facebook | Twitter

His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

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