CHOOSE TO LEAD
WHEN INTERESTS COLLIDE
BY RANDY G. PENNINGTON
Imagine a scenario where you represent a landowner in an
easement case with a public agency. The week before you are
scheduled to testify, the firm representing the agency calls and
offers you substantial work with them on another case. While
there is no specific mention of the impending case, you get the
distinct impression that your favorable testimony would greatly
enhance the amount of work you receive. What should you do?
First you must ask yourself whether your action can hurt your
reputation for quality service and fair dealing. If you abide by the
IRWA Code of Ethics, then your decision is clear.
Now let’s change the circumstances. You are serving on an IRWA
committee that could impact your company. Your vote to increase
the educational standards will elevate the profession, but it could put
your company at a competitive disadvantage for at least a year while
you budget for the increased requirements. Do you vote for what is
best for the profession or for what is best for your company?
Again, the answer is simple if you apply the same ethical code
to your leadership responsibility. Unfortunately, the pull to use
our position to further our personal situation can be much more
complicated, especially when your interests collide.
When a conflict of interest arises, a leader’s performance
communicates their true desire to build a reputation for fair and
trustworthy service. Here are four ideas to help you chart the best
course of action:
Be aware. Imagine carrying out your leadership responsibilities
while wearing a two-sided button. One side reads “Leader” and
the other reads “Liar.” Now imagine that each person you come
into contact with is asked which side best reflects their perception
of your performance and behavior. Turned one way, your button
reflects your status as a leader. Turned the other direction, you are
branded as a liar. Which way would your button turn?
Be clear on your perspective. What makes a conflict
of interest so challenging is that every option can feel right
depending on your point of view. It becomes critical to have
total clarity when you chart your course of action. For example,
it is perfectly appropriate to act in your own best interest when
making personal decisions, as long as you do not violate your
professional obligations for ethical conduct. However, when
you are serving in an IRWA leadership role, doing what is best
for your company or personal situation would be improper.
The only perspective that matters is the one that reflects your
primary responsibility at the time.
Think long-term when making the choice. The Ethics
Litmus Test published in the March/April 2013 issue of this
publication included six key questions to help you to focus
on what is right. Two of those questions strike to the heart of
fairness and a long-term approach to building trust: Would the
results be beneficial for all if everyone made the same decision?
Will you think well of yourself when you look back on your
Don’t judge your own case. When elected officials are
called on to address a conflict of interest, some people might
find that ironic. But the fact is, the majority of elected leaders
operate from the highest standards of integrity. There is one
guiding principle that allows them to navigate the multiple
conflicts that they are presented with on a daily basis: Never
judge your own case. If you are in doubt about your course of
action when faced with a conflict of interest, ask for guidance
from people you respect and trust.
Leadership is ultimately about our ability to influence others.
That happens best when there is absolutely no doubt that our
integrity and credibility are intact. Our ability to earn and
sustain trust is enhanced by our ability to do what is right when
conflicts of interest collide.
Leaders are evaluated every day by their ability to earn and
maintain the trust of others. Without that trust, people protect
their own interests—often to their own long-term detriment. Be
aware. Even if your decision seems minor, there is still a chance
that it can be interpreted as a conflict of interest by others.
Randy Pennington is author of Results Rule! Build a Culture that Blows the
Competition Away and On My Honor, I Will... He helps leaders build cultures
committed to results, relationships and accountability. Send your ideas to
Randy@penningtongroup.com. Follow his blog at www.penningtongroup.com.