Is There A Price Associated To Integrity And Doing What Is Right For Others?

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In yesterday’s blog, I asked the question: “Should tenure be justification or entitlement to keep a person within an organization just because folks are afraid of them? I hardly think so, but in reality it happens because folks have a tendency to look the other way”. A number of people sent me private responses to the posting indicating that they’ve been in previous work situations where there was a decided disconnect between agency policy and practice because folks in places of perceived authority opted to disregard agency expectations and do things their way. “Their way” generally carried with it an air of superiority, a lack of civility or respect for others and a willful defiance to ignore stated values and expectations of the employer.

I have a long term friend, mentor and former supervisor who led by example. As a rule of thumb, it was his belief that whenever you “treat people right” it always carries with it the potential to work in your best interest as well as theirs. His leadership style endeared his employees to want to go the second mile and follow his lead in their dealings with others as well. Whenever civility and respect for others is ingrained as a non-negotiable expectation, it lends itself to high morale and satisfaction of everyone in the work force.

So here’s my question: “What do you do when you work for an employer that is deceptive and purposefully places others unknowingly at risk? Does the profit margin and vested interest at times corrupt an organization? After all, business is business. At the end of the day increased sales and higher profit margins filter over (pardon the pun, you’ll figure it out later) into employee bonuses and the companies financial portfolio.

Does “doing the right thing” always pay dividends to the employee that has the courage to provide honest data and disclose corruption and evil intent? Is there a price associated to integrity and doing what is right for others? Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where right always prevailed? Unfortunately vested interest always carries with it a disregard for ethical behavior and the greater good of others.

Does anyone remember the name Dr. Jeffery Wigand? His story is one that cost him his job and resulted in death threats to both he and his family. Perhaps in an effort to protect the public’s interest, he disclosed that high-ranking corporate executives in the company where he worked knowing sabotaged the work they were paying him to conduct in the development of reduced-harm cigarettes. Instead they opted to tweak the tobacco blend of their cigarettes to purposefully increase the nicotine levels in cigarette smoke. “Holy Smoke” was not the outcome. Increased nicotine levels in smoke adds a new dimension to the dangers associated with second-hand smoke. Reportedly, the company Dr. Wigand worked for knowingly approved the addition of additives to their cigarettes that were known to be carcinogenic and/or addictive.

Dr. Jeffery Wigand’s assertions were disclosed on February 4, 1996 when he appeared on the CBS news program of 60 Minutes. Interestingly, the story almost didn’t make it to broadcast. It was filmed months earlier and didn’t immediately make it to the network broadcast. Okay, I admit it: “I’m skeptical. Did the intent to bury the story completely have something to do with the concept that “big money talks?” It subsequently aired on February 4, 1996 reportedly after the Wall Street Journal published the written testimony of Dr. Wigand. It was then that CBS reconsidered and allowed the show to run.

Was the 60 Minute presentation fair and balanced? I don’t know. The broadcast began with the question: “Which is true?” A snippet from a representative of the tobacco’s company got the first shot. In response to the 60 Minute lead-in: “What the tobacco men at Brown and Willamson say about their former research director, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand… ‘His life has been a pattern of lies’”. Could the assertion be true? From a public relations perspective, establishing at least a question in the viewer’s mind regarding Dr. Wigand’s credibility was probably a brilliant ploy.

On the other side of the coin, “What the Attorney-General of Mississippi says about him?” presents a very different view. The Attorney-General stated: “The information that Jeffery has, I think is the most important information that has ever come out against the tobacco industry.”

Cleverly, CBS presented both sides of the story: “Tonight, Jeffery Wigand, the scientist whose insistence on defying his former employer has led him to tell what he believes to be the truth about cigarettes.” Yep, they then cleverly stated: “What is it he believes about cigarettes? And what is it that Brown & Williamson believe to be the truth about him?”

Mike Wallace expressed it this way: “A story we set out to report six months ago has now turned into two stories: how cigarettes can destroy peoples’ lives and how one cigarette company is trying to destroy the reputation of a man who refused to keep quiet about what he says he learned when he worked for them”.

“The man they set out to destroy is Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, their former three-hundred-thousand-dollar-a year director of research. They employed a prestigious law firm to sue him, a high-powered investigation firm to probe every nook and cranny of his life. And they hired a big-time public consultant to help them plant damaging stories about him in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and others. But the Journal reported the story for what they thought it was: ‘scant evidence’ was just one of their comments.”

If any of this has perked your interest, you can find a complete transcript of the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast on the Internet.

As a rule of thumb, if things aren’t right where you work, I’d recommend you go all the way to the top in necessary to seek to correct the perceived wrong doing. Who knows, folks at the top may not know they have a problem until someone has the courage to bring it to their attention. I think my friend and former supervisor offers wise counsel in his management style. When you treat people right it always carries with it the potential to work in your best interest as well as theirs.

All My Best
Don

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