Defensive driving class for business leaders

No organization can be exclusively values-based. We need rules and processes to operate efficiently.

Outside the business world, for example, we can’t allow millions of drivers to hit the road and simply ask them to drive safely (value = safety). We need to impose some basic rules defining what side of the road we drive on and who needs to stop at an intersection. These rules, coupled with safety, allow us to travel much faster.

In the business world, rules and processes allow us to move faster as well. But they can also provide a false sense of security. Just like a white line in the middle of the road does not prevent a car from traveling against traffic, a business process does not prevent all mistakes or wrongdoing. In other words, business people must adapt their driving based on the road conditions.

To push this analogy further (too far?), the ethical leader is like the instructor in a defensive driving class. Her role is not to prohibit all gifts to third-parties, or never to use sales agents, or not to operate in corrupt countries (although these actions might be necessary at times). Her role is to remind the organization that certain business conditions are more dangerous than other, and that processes alone won’t prevent head-on collisions.

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