Our inner compass is shaped through the years by our choices and decisions, people we meet and reactions we see
If you have doubts about how this may impact your personal credibility and your family/organisation, then you need to rethink your actions
Lack of discipline, rash judgement and uncontrolled greed lead a person to be dishonest over the years
I wrote a chapter with the same title for my book You Don’t Need a Godfather, and I vividly recall the number of times I revised it. Not because I wasn’t sure of what needs to be said - it was the greyness of the topic and the multitude of layers, like peeling an onion, which I needed to work through. The outcome I hoped would deter professionals, irrespective of age and industry, from making mistakes that they will regret.
While I can’t say I am most passionate about this subject, I can tell you that I am most pained by the consequences of this. I am talking about transgressions at the workplace ranging from fudging reimbursement bills to embezzlement, from accessing porn to sexual harassment. And the irony of it all is that the amount they were after is often miniscule and the alleged victim trusted them explicitly.
I will not take the moral high ground here and pass a judgement, but I know, with experience, that there is only one way - Out! What follows is a lifetime of regret and looking over your shoulder, wondering when this will catch up. In our day of LinkedIn, Facebook and background verifications, someone somewhere already knows.
I’m convinced that we don’t wake up one fine day as a dishonest person. This is a slow but steady (and heady, for some) journey, fueled by the lack of discipline, uncontrolled greed and rash judgment. The journey starts with small steps; white lies that don’t hurt, misdeeds that go unnoticed and misconduct that goes unreported.
These reinforcements create a false sense of security and bravado, which over a period of time, blurs right from wrong. Before you know it, you’ve started playing the system, finding loopholes and weak links. It doesn’t take long for this behaviour to turn into a habit.
Is it avoidable? I would like to believe so and that is why I included this chapter in the very first section of my book. I reproduce an excerpt of the same with the fervent hope that we will prevent another professional from writing an unexpected obituary for their career.
An Excerpt from You Don’t Need a Godfather, Section 1 Chapter 3
Inner Compass is that voice in our head or heart (depending on what you believe in) that guides us to make the choices. All of us have one; yet, why does it fail some of us? Is it because it is not strong enough? Or that it is not working well? And who defines the settings? And what is it influenced and shaped by?
The two big influencers of our inner compass are: The need to fit in and the path of least resistance
Need to fit in: I remember, at school, the first time I ignored a friend’s request for an answer in a class test when the teacher stepped out. My classmates called me a sissy, chicken and what-not during the break. On the other hand, my parents were clear that failing a test was acceptable, but being caught cheating would lead to dire consequences. I was torn between what my parents were telling me and the need to be part of the social group at school.
This scenario gets repeated again and again, the first time I smoked to be part of the ‘In’ crowd. Facing peer pressure to be with the ‘in’ set in college… at work... Clearly, this is our strong need to fit in, be with the crowd and not be isolated.
Path of least resistance: We have to constantly make choices. Our choices are not only dictated by the need to fit in, but slowly, the path of choosing the one of least resistance kicks in. From trying to please our family, colleagues, boss or just simply trying to lead a happy life for ourselves, we take decisions that will keep us on the path of least resistance, which avoids unnecessary confrontation or disagreement with our stand. The choices we make define and determine our compass! Our inner compass is shaped through the years, by our choices and decisions, people we meet and reactions we see.
Making the Right Choices – The Tests
At the cost of simplifying it too much, here are some tests that can help you make the right decisions and do the right things.
Today’s Headlines: I’m sure that most have heard of the ‘Headline Test’. If you ever have doubts about what you are doing – hopefully, not yet done - see how it would read as a headline in a major newspaper. It is much like consequence analysis. If you have doubts about how this may impact your personal credibility or on how it would impact your family/organisation, then you need to rethink your actions.
Ask somebody else: If in doubt, postpone the action, talk to somebody, not one but many, if required. Never come under pressure or be pushed to take a decision in a hurry.
Can I tell my son/daughter/children?: I use this often. Will I tell my son about how I went to office smelling of alcohol? Will I tell my son I took friends out for lunch and claimed the expense from office as business lunch? Will I tell my son that I told my boss I met the client when I did not? You can replace son with spouse, father, mother, girlfriend, boyfriend or even guru! I find this the most powerful check.
To each his own: find your own way to build the inner compass, align it for all occasions, strengthen it and test it to ensure you will always be proud of YOU. History is replete with examples of one silly mistake, one bad decision or one crossroad where the inner compass failed to point the right way.
You don’t want to be another. Read this once more if you wish, but don’t forget this ever – this is the bedrock of lasting success and a good night’ sleep every night or day (if you worked in a BPO!).
While you may never get hired for integrity alone, lack of it is the surest and fastest way to get fired!
Elango R. is Executive VP - Emerging Geographies SBU and Global CHRO at MphasiS