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Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)
Military leader

Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

A retired U.S. Army General, Montgomery Meigs has commanded U.S. and NATO forces overseas and is now President and CEO of Business Executives for National Security.

Preempt Wrongdoing

Any newly elected official confronted with a situation like today's with Governor Blagojevic should put everything -- and that means everything -- on the table, because the facts will come out at some point; they always do. But don't make a personal statement of what happened until you know the facts. Better to take the short-term criticism from those who will always assume the worst than to respond with an answer that spins the truth or one that requires correction later on. Spin creates doubt even amongst one's most loyal supporters; a "what I meant to say" or two creates an impression that the leader does not know how to handle a crisis, or is actually covering up. Take the time and do the homework to be right the first time, and if you have erred, don't be afraid to admit it.

In a broader sense, however, leaders cannot afford to wait until malfeasance or illegality washes up at their front door. They must take affirmative action to preempt the inclination to misbehavior. Leaders have the responsibility to set the tone for behavior in their organization, and people in that organization must know which grey areas are off limits.

First, bring in the personal staff with the outfit's senior attorney, the ethics counselor, and inspector general or ombudsman present and make it clear everyone there has a responsibility to represent you and the organization properly to the outside world, and that responsibility involves behavior as well as words. Make it clear that no one, to include the CEO, gets unauthorized perquisites, relaxation of rules, and favors, unofficial or official. Those who do encourage or accept those kinds of advantages will be off team.

Empower the personal staff in this process by telling them that if they find some of your own actions cross over the line, you expect them to raise the issue with you. If coming to you personally seems too daunting, go to the chief of staff or the ethics counselor or inspector general. It is amazing how this kind of personal approach and openness defuses suspicion in the ranks about what goes on in the inner sanctum.

Second, look at the organization's stated policies. Do they unequivocally and in simple, plain English set down enforceable rules about acceptance of gifts, conflicts of interest, or the wide range of ethics regulations generated by administrative law? Do they categorically and clearly specify legal issues of particular interest to your organization? Push the attorneys who generally write these policy statements. If the statements of policy are not clear, have them rewritten until they can be easily understood on the first reading by the most junior official on the personal staff. Next ensure that all members of the corporation or their equivalent in the organization understand the rules, and that they have gone over them with their subordinates.

Finally, having set out the rules, the leader must live by them. The behavior of the CEO, political leader, or Commander provides the most powerful reinforcement of policy. Almost a millenium ago, the author of "Beowolf," one of the oldest pieces in the English language about the warrior ethic, made this point best: "Behavior that's admired is the path to power amongst people everywhere."

By Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

 |  December 16, 2008; 8:47 PM ET
Category:  Politics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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In the late 1990's, I was an Inspector General for General Meigs in Europe. The points that he presented were indicative of the climate that he sought to establish within a far-reaching command with many diverse elements.
The Army has several regulations and policies to not only preempt wrongdoing but that also charge commanders to hold those under their responsibility accountable when wrongdoing occurs. The senior leader establishes the climate for accountability beginning with himself and the other senior personnel in the organization. The leader must ensure processes are in place to reinforce the values of the organization—to teach, mentor, and develop ethical behavior as the standard.
I remember a short meeting with General Meigs where he gave guidance on a special inspection. He looked at me and said “Chuck, I don’t want Type II errors.” I understood—no false negatives. He wanted the truth to come out and my due diligence was to be thorough and bring the news, good and bad, as I found it.
That is was leaders do—they establish what is acceptable for all in the organization (themself included), they ensure the standards are clear, they have processes to monitor and provide feedback, and they act to hold members accountable.

Posted by: charlesdallen | December 19, 2008 10:44 AM
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