What Bernie Sanders Knows About Leadership, Ethics and Compliance (But Forgot To Mention)

Regardless of what you think of this year’s crop of U.S. presidential candidates – and please, please, please know this isn’t a political post – the campaign has already been an interesting romp through the entire range of the ethics of fair and reasonable campaigning.

I’ll save any critique of all that for another day, though.

Here, in the meantime though, is my thought for the moment.

If you saw/heard/heard about last night’s Clinton v. Sanders debate, you may recall that Hillary accused Bernie of making veiled accusations about the contributions she has received from big business. Though I can’t now find the clip to provide a verbatim quote, she said, in essence, that contributions have never influenced her voting or policy record. Her request was then that they stick to substantive issues and he agreed. On the surface, a sensible move for both parties.

Here, however, are the two pieces I realize were missing from Sanders’ response. (And, frankly, both are things I think we all know…):

1. We are rarely good judges of how much, and in which ways, we are influenced by others. Hillary may or may not be right to say that her record has never been influence by gifts from individuals and organizations but the fact is that she is unlikely to have nearly as much clarity about that as she imagines. (To be clear, this is not an indictment of her, it’s simply an artifact of her being human.)

Should Bernie have mentioned that? Maybe yes and maybe no. Still it’s something we all need to remember, whether we are presidential candidates or not. (And, even with as many candidates as there currently are, I’m guessing that at least most of us here are not among them.)

2. When it comes ethics – as well as compliance and accountability – we all also have to remember that appearances are everything. One can be pure as the proverbial driven snow but, if we appear to be doing something that might be wrong, we’ve lost a chunk of the trust of those whose trust we perhaps most want and need. In a leadership role, that’s all the more important.

Should Bernie have mentioned that? Tactically, I’m guessing so.

Far more importantly, though? The appearance that we’re doing the right thing – as much as actually doing the right thing – is something we all need to keep top-of-mind if we expect to both earn and keep the trust of those with and for whom we work.*

Bernie may not have said it but I’ll now feel better that I have…

*For those who might argue that Trump seems to be immune to this process, I would argue that – by all appearances – his comments seem to be fully aligned with what his supporters want to hear.


While it is my deepest hope that this does not become a politicized post – please do help me out with that – I will indeed look forward to your thoughts.

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