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Barry Posner

Barry Posner

Barry Posner is Dean of the Leavey School of Business and Professor of Leadership at Santa Clara University.

Push Ethics to the Forefront

There really are two questions here: What should Obama do in this instance and what should leaders do in general. As for the first question, Obama should continue to take the high road in general but in this instance, as the incoming president and senator from (and resident of) Illinois he needs to call for Governor Blagojevich's resignation as being in the best interests of the citizens of his state and the nation.

Obama needs to remind the governor, and all who hold public office, that this is a position of public trust and once this trust is lost it cannot be easily regained. Accordingly, the governor needs to step aside to demonstrate he has the best interests of his constituents in mind rather than his own. Of course, if that were truly the case then this entire incident would not have ever happened. So before Governor Blagojevich resigns, and he will, he will spend as much time as possible figuring out the best deal for himself regardless of the consequences for others.

President-elect Obama needs to turn this incident into a teachable moment for both the American people and for those whom he has asked to serve with him in his administration. Elected officials and those who are appointed to key areas of responsibility in the public sector must hold themselves to the highest standards of ethics, and must at all times be focused on serving the interests of others not those of themselves. Obama needs to establish at the onset of his administration that he will not tolerant anything less than complete public service. Indeed, leadership will always require some level of personal sacrifice in order to serve the common good. If that weren't true, than everyone would be running for public office.

As for leaders more generally, the response may not always be so unequivocal, as I've suggested for Obama. We must respect the maxim of being "innocent until proven guilty" and must not succumb to the politics of innuendo, rumor or accusations. Full cooperation with the investigation is important, but this can become a little like locking the hen house after the fox has visited.

Best advice, don't let it happen. Let people know what the standards are and the principals by which decisions will be made. Hold yourself accountable to them. Take responsibility for adhering to them yourself and for making sure that others know that you will hold them, and their people, accountable as well. Act with a sense of urgency -- don't let a sore become a canker by not acting or hoping things will heal by themselves. In the end, ethics is a daily proposition not a backstop to employ when things go wrong (or you get caught!).

By Barry Posner

 |  December 15, 2008; 1:38 PM ET
Category:  Politics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I was born in Chicago 71 years ago and raised in Illinois and it is interesting to see that nothing has changed for the better over those 71 years. Illinois (and particularly Chicago) politics have always been corrupt and are certainly not getting better. Unfortunatly for us, the electorate in general, is not aware of this and therefore, it is rearing its ugly head not only in the governor's office, but even 'bambi' is a product of this culture! The next things that we will probably see are Blago being named Ethics Secretary; Ayres named Director of Education; and Wright named Pastor General!! Let's just hope that we can survive the next four years:(

Posted by: Glen | December 16, 2008 8:56 AM
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