Saturday, January 7, 2012
It has been pointed out to me the irony in my running compliance and ethics programs. After all, I was convicted of a crime and served an 18-month sentence at Taft Federal Prison Camp. Convictions aside, I am pleased at my expanding client list, convincing me I am on the right track.
My lessons on ethics, as told through my books, and recent Forbes blog, are practically based. Sharing my story, and the stories of other educated white-collar offenders who fell from grace, provides real life examples of the consequences of unethical behavior.
I admire those executives who sit attentively in my audience. Embracing ethics is not a chore for them, but a joy. Unfortunately, before I went to prison I had very little interest in the study of ethics. As far back as USC I wasn’t concerned with listening to others who would put me to sleep with lectures about the value of making ethical decisions. My focus was on playing baseball, then graduating and making money. That was my first mistake.
As a stockbroker I made money—lots of it. Money and advancement, at all costs, consumed me. Some called it greed, others ambition. Either way, my singular pursuit of money, and ignoring the nuisance of ethics, came with a heavy price. As a result of my arrogance and dereliction of duty I created victims, embarrassed my family, ruined my career, and suffered through a year in prison.
“What was your biggest mistake?” I remember an executive at KPMG asking me.
My biggest mistake was suffering from myopia. I never fully understood how the decisions I made today would influence the life I wanted to lead tomorrow. Additionally, I never stopped to consider what I valued or why. Why did I choose money over family? Why did I think it was ok to use you as a means to my end? Why did I subordinate my health and relationships for rapid advancement?
The study of ethics helped me understand these questions, and it helped define my values. It helped me embrace Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, of finding balance and moderation in all we do. It taught me the importance of prioritizing, and pursuing activities that translate into a moral life. It helped me embrace my past, and to pay attention to the emotions that helped lead me astray. When I feel envy, jealousy, or resentment, I now ask why. Ethics requires that I stay focused on tasks that bring value to my life and the lives of others. Ethics provides a much needed perspective—I am amazed at how differently I see the world after reading only 10 minutes of Socrates or 15 minutes of Sartre.
My study of ethics continues. It is a part of my life, like breathing. I feel immensely grateful to be able to share these valuable lessons with audiences from coast to coast.