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Claudelle von EckChief Executive Officer of the IIA SA

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A Blog from Dr Claudelle von Eck, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Internal Auditors.

 

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Shall we dance? Leadership is an art - Part III

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 24 August 2017
Updated: 25 August 2017

 

This is Part III of my blog on the leadership lessons I have learned on the dance floor. If you have not yet read Parts I and II, I suggest that you first scroll down to the two blogs before this one as this follows on from there. (And don’t forget my disclaimer. I am still a student of leadership myself….).

 

I have just recently returned from Sydney where I attended the IIA international conference and committee meetings, followed by our own annual national conference, trips to Namibia and Zambia and being sick in between. That meant a few weeks of no dance lessons. I do not know how to describe the withdrawal symptoms I experience in those dance-drought periods. I miss the feeling of the music pulsating through my veins, the whispers of forgotten worlds passed on from generation to generation in the DNA of those artists who pull their music from the heavens. I miss the rhythm that speaks to your feet and leave your body with an intense desire to flow across the dance floor and express emotions you weren’t even aware of. I miss being carried off into that dance dimension where I can forget about everything and everybody (yes, everybody….it is bliss).

One of my greatest fears in life is being too old or incapacitated to the degree that I am no longer able to dance. Or, heaven forbid, Tony no longer being able or willing to dance with me. That would be just bad. Really really bad. I cannot imagine life without my dance lessons. What will I do with stresses that build up and flow like poison through my body, accelerating the aging process? I need the dancing to counterbalance that.

 

1.       It is important to read the energy

Over time Tony has learned to read my energy levels. Most days when I arrive at the studio, I am so tired from a combination of too little sleep and being bombarded the whole day that I feel like a zombie. I can hardly keep my eyes open and feel like the weight of the world is sitting on my shoulders. When he sees I am close to rock bottom, he’ll start us off with something slow like a Rumba, Batchata or a Bolero so that I can be eased into it. He knows that starting off on a salsa would be too much for my weary body. I need to warm up first and allow the music to saturate my soul and lift my spirits, which in turn lifts my body from its exhaustive state. Needless to say, when I feel like a vegetable, Tony tends to find me less willing to learn new steps. My brain just does not want to be challenged by a new sequence of steps. He gets a glare from me if he dares to venture into teaching mode.  There are times though when I know that it is going to take an energetic salsa to kick start me and that a prolonged easing in would simply not get my body to wake up. How does he know what method is going to work tonight? He listens to me, both to what I say verbally as well as to the signals my body gives.

 

Leaders must run at a pace the system can absorb, otherwise they risk breaking the system. That is a tough one. Learning to exercise patience because the team does not have the capacity to run as fast as you would like it to, can be a difficult pill to swallow. That capacity is determined by a host of things including competence, workload, attitude, agility, etc. This is only becoming increasingly more difficult as stakeholder expectations increase and the world becomes more volatile. Finding the balance between not breaking the system and pushing it hard enough to ensure that the organisation remains on the leading edge and does not fall prey to disruptors, is an art we all have to learn quickly. This is more difficult in some contexts than others. For some it is easy to fire dead wood and hire better equipped teams, but what to do when you are a bit stuck with what you have because of resource constraints? In the South African context, access to talent is a struggle for most. This is of course worsened when leaders are so engrossed in fighting everyday battles that they find themselves with less capacity to invest in their teams.

 

Leaders should be able to read where their people are at. Overestimating the team’s capacity can lead to failure, resentment, resistance, burnout, disillusionment and people disengaging. One of the hardest things to deal with though is knowing that you have exceeded capacity but being unable to add resources because of a lack of funding – when you rely on the goodwill of the people to remain committed to the vision despite being stretched beyond their capacity. One then has to live in the twilight between guilt as a result of pushing people too far and knowing what the consequences will be if the vision is not fulfilled. It is only a compelling vision and a sense of purpose that will keep people on course in the long run.

 

I am ashamed to admit that I hardly ever ask myself how willing Tony is to dance with me on a particular night. I don’t often think about how tired he is. (Shameful, I know. Please don’t judge me). The reality is that people often de-humanise those in leadership positions. They need you to be aware of their needs and be ready to adapt to what they demand, but will not often stop to think about the demands on you as a leader. I hardly ever think about Tony’s day and how many different scenarios he had to adapt to with his various students, who all came in with their own needs and level of competence, which determine the extent to which he has to exert himself, and how much of his energy has been sapped. I just need him to dance with me the way I want him to. As a leader one has to deal with the fact that people will make demands on you and forget that you are human too. Reading their energy is a skill that is not often reciprocated. More often than not, people will demand from you without thinking about how much others have already taken from you. That comes with the territory.

 

2.       When you miscalculate, own your mistake and apologise

One of the characteristics that I admire about Tony is that he is always willing to take responsibility when his lead has not been clear enough (ok, maybe even when it was clear enough and I did not read it well enough). Guys won’t like this, but Tony taught me that when things go wrong it is always the guy’s fault (His words, not mine). Actually, what he is saying is that when things go wrong on the dance floor, the one who is responsible for the lead should take responsibility for the missteps. I’ll go with that, but I’ll say that he is a much better follower than I am. Yes, I sometimes lead too (more about that in a later blog).

 

Leaders make mistakes. Now, maybe even more so than before, because we have to deal with so much more complexity. It is so difficult to navigate your way through the myriad of issues and make daily calls as you constantly change feet. It is not always easy to accept that you had made a wrong decision or moved too fast or too slow. And, we can be just as hard on ourselves as we are afraid of others judging us. It is that fear of being exposed in front of others that results in many a leader trying to find scapegoats in others. One of the marks of a good leader is someone who is able to own up when they have made the wrong call and being willing to live with the consequences. Reality is that we all periodically find ourselves in that position where we have to choose between being a coward and blaming someone else and saying sorry. Showing that you’re human can be inspiring, as others can see that walking in your shoes is not reserved for super human beings. That they too can reach those heights. But, being able to own up and admit that you’ve made a mistake is also liberating. That liberation does start within self though. Being in denial about your fallibility creates blockages that stunt your growth. That denial also causes us to lead the team to dance off-beat. When Tony realises that I did not understand his lead, he apologises, corrects and brings us back into rhythm. And I forgive him, every time. Even when it was my fault ;-). 

 

In our twenty odd years of dancing together there were two occasions when he couldn’t catch me in time, and I fell. Yep, they were hard falls. I banged by head on the floor on both occasions. Ironically, one of those occasions was captured on video. I take a lot of risks when I dance with him, because I trust that he will be there to catch me. And he always does. Except for those two occasions when he was a fraction too slow to save me from myself. I can still see the horror and remorse in his eyes. And I can relate. When our decisions or actions adversely affect others, it can be gut wrenching. Knowing that you may have caused pain in others is a difficult thing to process and put behind you. You can either go in denial about your role in their pain or face it and find healing. Sadly too many choose to go in denial, which only creates long term festering wounds. It becomes an invisible burden around the neck that only slows one down. Owning up and taking responsibility is always the cleanest and easiest in the long run, despite it being the most difficult in the short run. It also helps to bring healing to those adversely affected. Own your mistakes, and the truth will set you free. Being able to say I am sorry, is not a weakness. It is a strength.

 

More about my lessons learnt in my next blog….

Tags:  accountability  apology  consequences  dance  demands. fall  denial  energy  failure  followers  honesty  leader  Leadership  listen  responsibility  wrong decision 

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Shall we dance? Leadership is an art - Part II

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 25 June 2017
Updated: 28 June 2017

 

This is Part II of my blog on the leadership lessons I have learned on the dance floor. If you have not yet read Part I, I suggest that you first go to the previous blog as this follows on from there. Let me hasten to once again remind you that these are lessons I have observed, not what I claim to have mastered. These are a few more of my reflections from the dance floor.

Over the years I learnt to appreciate a variety of music genres as a result of the different dances Tony taught me. Of course not every single genre tickles my fancy (that would be weird. Nobody likes everything. Some types of music, which I will not mention here for fear of offending someone, are an acquired taste). But, in one dance lesson I can be transported from Argentina to Angola, and from the 60’s to the 2000’s in minutes. It is understanding how the dance steps (principles) relate to the music (context) that gives one a deeper appreciation for the music and increases what your ears can absorb with ease. Within genres one can however distinguish between musicians and the true talented geniuses who can create music that effortlessly transports you into the depth of the dance dimension. Some just have the ability to instantly touch and whisper ancient truths to my soul. I have however learnt that not every genre is for me, nor can just any musician’s music take me there. Sometimes I try to dance to a piece of music and no amount of knocking on the gateway will let it open. In some contexts I am just a fish out of water. In that moment I know: “This is for other people, not for me”.  Sometimes I’ll indulge Tony and go through the motions, but in those moments where I can feel myself floating too far away from that gateway, I have no qualms about stopping in my tracks and asking (ok, quietly demanding is probably closer to the truth) him to change the music. One should not be afraid to move on when the context is for other people and not for you.

 

1.       Resistance training enhances the dance experience

To my shame, I must admit that I have only really learnt this lesson in recent years. Perhaps only because I hurt my back in 2012 (yes, it was very sore. Thank you for asking) and had to work on strengthening my core. That, coupled with being told that I was overweight and did not have enough lean muscle (that was a shock), drove me to work on strengthening my core and muscles through resistance training. The unintended consequence was a stronger me on the dance floor. I cannot begin to describe what it had done for my dancing. I slowly started to realise that I have better control over my body and my movements, and that feeling my muscles at work enhanced my dance experience. I could do more, stay in challenging positions longer and was able to control my stops and starts with greater precision. It is like hitting the sweet spot golfers chase or being in the zone like a runner who runs with litheness. I could sense Tony’s approval, no doubt because I could keep up with him for longer, despite no longer being as young as the dance illiterate who arrived on his doorstep many moons ago. Until the penny dropped, I did not realise how important resistance training outside of my dance lessons was.

Building muscle does not come without sacrifice, as the saying goes: ‘no pain, no gain’. Google tells me that most theories around muscle growth are based on the idea that resistance training breaks down the muscle and that growth occurs as a result of an over-compensation to protect the body from future stress. Our bodies break down and rebuild muscles every 15 to 30 days, they say, and resistance training speeds that process up.

Building strength in leadership is important, but even more so in the volatile times we live in. Strength is built through resistance training and that does not come without feeling the pain. Leaders should continually ask themselves where and how they are building ‘muscle’. In this context, one should embrace the challenges that cross your path as they provide you with opportunities to build strength. Most of those who we revere as iconic leaders have the scars that tell a tale of an individual who has had to fight life battles. Mandela is a great example of someone who had been shaped by hardship. The stronger you are, the more responsibility the universe will permit you to carry. The last thing you want to do is fall apart in the middle of a challenge because you have not built enough resilience within yourself. As the saying goes: The highest trees catch the most wind.

Next time when you feel sorry for yourself because you feel victimised or ill-treated, rather see your current circumstances as an opportunity to build strength than seeing yourself as a victim. Whenever someone treats me badly I try (I said try) to remind myself that at some point, when the edge of the pain has lifted, I will thank that individual for being the instrument that provided me with the resistance my muscles needed to grow (not saying it is easy, but I refuse to be a victim). In hindsight all the bad things that happened to me only made me stronger. One has to periodically remind yourself of that. Leaders cannot shy away from the pain the resistance training bring, because they need to continuously grow in maturity. It is really hard to see someone, who victimises or bullies you, as an instrument sent to build your strength, and have the grace to forgive them for hurting you. I can think of one or two people who I am still battling to find grace for in my heart (committed to keep trying though). For me it is particularly difficult to swallow when it is about injustice toward a people who are not able to defend themselves. To find grace in those situations is challenging, but the freedom that it brings, kick starts the rest needed for the muscle to heal and increase in strength. When we see ourselves as victims, we hand over power and a part of us dies.

There is of course also a good argument to be made for the value that actual physical training brings to those in leadership positions. The stronger your body, the more resilient your overall being. Too many underestimate the impact of stress on their bodies created by continuous mental challenges that are often also accompanied by emotional stress. The harder you work and the more challenging the environment, the more effort you should put into exercising and ensuring that you nourish your body with nutritious food. The more you do that, the less of a sweat you will break through the intricate moves on the dance floor.

 

2.       You can only enter the dance dimension when you lose the trappings and go in as your authentic self

I’m not sure at what point I had learnt this lesson, although I think that a lot of it had to do with getting to trust Tony and know that I am in a safe space. To find yourself in that space of fluidity where you can close your eyes, touch the ether and become one with the universe, you need to die to what ties you to the matrix. For me it was inhibitions brought with me from the past, the dynamics with a white male in the South African context (oh, by the way, Tony is white, which in a normal world would be a completely irrelevant statement, but South Africa’s past is not normal) and switching off from the everyday noise, among other hang ups. I found that when I approached the dance with my authentic self, I was allowed to enter the dance dimension. You would now often find me dancing with my eyes half closed, clearly oblivious to the world around me – perhaps even oblivious to Tony’s presence as a separate individual, who at this point is the partner who fluidly becomes a conduit and let me just be.

I truly believe that one can only really enter the realm of great leadership if you’re able to untie yourself from what has become a system driven by greed, let go of self-interest and become immersed in what is right for the greater good. Self-interest seems to be that ugly shadow that follows many people in powerful leadership positions. Some are completely aware of the fact that they are working in their own interest. Some curiously seem to have developed the skill of masking their true intentions even from themselves and really believe that they are working in the interest of the greater good. However the proof is always in the pudding. Over time one recognises them by their fruit. Somehow their decisions benefit them directly or indirectly, or those who they regard to be in their inner circle, at the expense of the greater good. Benefit is of course not always financial, it can also be about increased power or recognition. Power seduces and turns many into addicts. It takes a measure of maturity to not become entangled in the trappings of the seductive nature of power.

In the South African context (and sadly in some other places in the world too), untying one from the system also means dismantling the illusion created by those who crafted the narrative around our peoples. Some have to shake the shackles of a deep seated insecurity that comes from having been told openly and/or covertly that they are inferior. Being stuck under the mental glass ceiling is the root cause of the potential of so many being locked away. So many of us are not even aware of how deep the pain of the past goes and to what degree it is holding us back. One’s ability to truly be a great leader can be held back by a masked inferiority complex. The truth will set us free.

For others it is about confronting the shackles of a superiority complex that sits at a subconscious level and can only be unseated by the ability to see their true self. These types of truths are very hard to face. It takes guts. It is so much easier to remain in denial and remain blind to how we adversely affect others by the covert messages embedded in our words and actions. We all like to believe that we are good people. One cannot truly be a great leader to all kinds of people unless you see equal potential in all and treat everyone with the same degree of dignity and respect. The truth will set us free.

Of course one can suffer from the two ailments at the same time, i.e. have an inferiority complex in relation to some people and a superiority complex in relation to others, be it based on race, gender, class or a combination thereof. When we’re able to look at ourselves objectively and see those stains on our souls, we realise how absurd it is that we have allowed ourselves to become imprisoned by structural ideologies that are divorced from true humanness. When we allow ourselves to remain in a space where we have a deep seated inferiority complex, we are disrespecting ourselves and our potential. When we allow ourselves to remain in a space where we have a superiority complex, we are also disrespecting ourselves because we are allowing ourselves to be inhumane. We should never underestimate the impact we may have on the souls of others.  

As a collective, too many of us are broken because of what the system taught us. I call us the walking wounded. But,…….the truth will set us free.

This is deep stuff. It requires brutal honesty with oneself and an ability to confront those things that shape who we are as leaders, including self-interest, prejudice, insecurities and greed (for money or power or both). Leadership is about stewardship, not lordship, thus about servanthood in the area where you have been appointed custodian and not about misuse of power to bend others to your will. If your decisions leave unnecessary casualties behind, you have to question whether you are operating in the true leadership dimension or whether you are a despot. Good leaders always consider the impact of their decisions on the people in their sphere of influence, especially those who cannot defend themselves. One of the most difficult things to do is to acknowledge to yourself that you have allowed the dark side of leadership to taint you and that you must change if you are to properly fulfill your role in exercising good leadership.

 

3.       You need to carry your own weight

 

Tony and I have had plenty of conversations about how so many students are not able to truly progress because they expect their instructor to carry them. Although he still remains my instructor, we have long moved to a partnership simply because I am prepared to carry my own weight in the dance. When each partner carries his/her own weight and they do so while integrating with the music, thus interpreting the music together, beautiful patterns emerge. More importantly, it leaves room for experimentation and immense creativity. See, we co-create. My destiny, i.e. whether I will enter the dance dimension or not, is not in his hands. My destiny is in my hands. I do of course understand that the more I carry my own weight, the more he is able to enjoy the dance with me, which in turn adds to my enjoyment of the dance.

 

As one enters the leadership space, it is important that you sit at the feet of mature leaders from whom you can learn. It is however far more important that you understand that you have to take responsibility for your responses, actions and decisions, but most importantly for your emotional maturity. You need to see your role in the greater collective and own the responsibility that comes with it. Within your organisation you should be clear about how you contribute to the leadership collective and ensure that you do not ride on the contributions of others. 

 

Too often one sees people in leadership positions who are not able to carry the responsibility that comes with the position. They want the title and the authority that comes with it, but not the accountability. So many leave destruction in their wake and do not take any responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and actions. Blame shifting is certainly not a leadership trait. Good leaders have the ability to see and admit when they have made the wrong call and have the ability to apologise, and not throw others under the bus. Amazing how many are allergic to saying ‘I’m sorry’, with a remorse that is authentic. I suppose, it is so much easier to remain in denial and blind to the pain we cause in others.

 

In order to be able to carry your own weight, you need to be strong. This ties neatly into the first concept I talked to in this blog.

 

4.       Watch the pros

 

Thank goodness for YouTube. By watching the pros dance, one is able to get a feel for what great looks like and know what it is that you need to emulate. Tony introduced me to a new contemporary dance recently (no, I’m not telling you which one. My mom may be reading this blog). Not only am I one of only a few of his students who have embraced it, very few of us have actually excelled in it. I believe that a great contributing factor to me understanding the essence of the dance was watching videos of great dancers on YouTube. By watching them I started to understand what makes the dance tick and I started to experiment while dancing with Tony. Once I understood what the flow feels like and what great looks like, I started to take to the dance like a fish in water.

 

I have learnt in the process though that not all great dancers are good at every single dance genre in the world. One therefore needs to look at different experts in their genres of expertise, based on what it is that you need to learn. So while you may have your favourites, learning does not come from observing only one or two of the pros.

 

When we watch leaders, we must be sure that we’re watching the pros and integrate their good example into our behaviour. However, we need to be sure that we are watching good leaders who are mature and display wisdom. Intelligence and wisdom are not the same thing. Just because the person is in a powerful position and has a great following, doesn’t mean the person is a mature and wise leader. Look at the fruit they have produced over time. Not just the money they have made or seeming success attained. Do they always consider the impact and ripple effect of their decisions and do the right things for the right reasons? Do they display ethical courage? Do they use a sledge hammer to take out opponents who are in a far less powerful position than they are, or do they consider their power in relation to who they are dealing with? Do they build trust and can people confide in them without fear that their vulnerabilities will be used against them? Do they protect those who blow the whistle or do they leave them exposed? Look at the staff turnover in their leadership team, the quality of their team (do they surround themselves with yea-sayers?) and how often they rearrange their top team without an apparent good cause. Do they treat those in “lesser positions” with respect or do they look down on them? Are they open to criticism or oppress those who dare speak out against their views? Do they feel entitled to lord over others or do they see themselves as servants of the greater good? One can learn a lot from watching great leaders in action, but you must make sure that you’re watching the right calibre.

 

When asked who my role models are, my response is always that I have a number of role models who all have something different they are exceptionally strong in. It is about multiple role models who collectively gives one a holistic picture as opposed to only looking up to one individual. It is however also important to remember that we all have our flaws and that one should never think of any leader as being infallible. You can’t go and fall apart if your role model’s feet of clay are exposed. Whenever I am referred to as a role model, my first thought goes to the weight of responsibility that comes with it. The more people look up to you, the greater the responsibility to exercise good leadership. It is not for the faint hearted. It is never just about you.

             Yes, of course I am not yet done. Some more on this topic in my next blog.

Looking forward to seeing you at our National Conference in August. For more on the conference, follow this link https://iiasa.site-ym.com/page/NationalConference

 

 

 

Tags:  collective  dance  ethics  greater good  lead  leaders  leadership  muscle  music  resistance  strength  training  wisdom 

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Shall we dance? Leadership is an art - Part I

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 12 June 2017

 

We all need that something in our lives that helps us to escape and rejuvenate our souls. I love dancing. Not just any kind of dancing. I took an interest in Ballroom and Latin American dancing a number of years ago and have been with the same dance instructor, Tony, ever since. Our partnership developed over the years, something we periodically chat about– on the odd occasion when I am not too tired to talk. The more and more I reflect on my lessons and those conversations, I have to concede that I have learnt much in the process. I am convinced that the art of dancing can teach us a whole lot of good leadership lessons. Allow me to share some of them with you, from both the perspective of my observations of how I respond to the process as well as my observations of Tony as the other side of the coin in the process. Let me hasten to say that I am sharing lessons I have observed not what I am claiming to have mastered. I still have much to learn. The principles below (and subsequent blogs as this is only part one. When I start talking about dancing I can't shut up) are of course not covering all the leadership principles you should be aware of. They are only the ones I have learned on my dance journey.                 

 

1.       You must be able to hear the music

Let me be clear, when I refer to hearing the music, I mean your ability to hear the rhythm and interpret it. When you truly listen, the music tells you what to do and where to go. I have watched many a dance student so focused on getting the steps and sequence right that they become oblivious to the soul of the music. The result is a mechanistic sequence of steps that lack the fluidity of true dancing. It may even look semi-professional, but it does not draw those who watch into the magic, nor does it leave them with a touch of envy because they recognise a hint of the mystical depths within which one could lose yourself. The music sets the context. It whispers in your ear and subtly suggests a genre of steps that would sweep you into that wonderful place I call the ethereal dance dimension. Where you are no longer encumbered by the stark reality of everyday life and can embrace your true self. I’m one of those who think that there is a good reason why one sees so many ancient cultures using dance as a means to entering other dimensions.

 

In observing Tony, it is clear to me that you can’t lead if you don’t understand the music yourself. It would be a disaster if I heard the music differently to what Tony hears and how he interprets it. Interpreting the music runs across various genres of dance. Over the years Tony has tutored me in over ten different types of dances. In one dance lesson we generally run through most of them and to a large extend I am at his mercy. So, as he changes the music, so my steps may change. I can therefore within minutes move from a slow Rumba to a feisty Salsa. I must admit, there are times when he puts on a piece of music which my brain is not able to interpret immediately, and I have to ask: “What is this?”.

 

Context is everything. Just like the dancer who must truly hear the music, the leader must hear the rhythm of the organisation as well as its industry and its broader context. It is the context that tells you where to go next. Key to the leader’s role is the interpretation of the context and leading the team in sync with the rhythm. More importantly, the leader must understand multiple contexts and be able to change feet fast and instinctively when the trends show a shift in pace and direction. In other words, you need to understand multiple contexts and be able to adapt fast. If you don’t understand what is being thrown at you, ask someone who is an expert in that area. It is better to ask those who understand that particular context, then to get lost in it and apply the wrong response to it. For example, many leaders are not hearing the music in their context changing the rhythm to digitisation, disruptions, artificial intelligence etc. You cannot dance the sensual Rumba when Salsa music is playing.

 

That mechanistic approach to dancing is what I also observe when it comes to governance (which is of course a leadership issue). Too many leaders do not truly understand the spirit behind governance principles and are taking a tick box approach to what they perceive to be rules that they must comply with – begrudgingly so.

 

2.       The partnership shapes the quality of the dance and the imagery others see

Over the years Tony and I learned to listen to each other. This is crucial to our ability to flow together in unison. Entering the dance dimension requires a partnership that is not only close knit, but also fluid. Central to that is trust. Building the trust that we have was certainly not a one month effort. Tony will tell you that it took years before I trusted him enough to completely relax, flow with him and allow him to see my soul. I needed to trust that he would not require anything of me outside the dance dimension that would bind us in the trappings of the ordinary and unnecessary complexities. In building the trust, we could also start to experiment together as I knew I was allowed to get things horribly wrong without being judged. As my instructor, he would always catch me. I have gone as far as just starting to free fall backward without warning, knowing that he’ll be there to catch me (true story). I guess he had gotten to understand that I can be unpredictable and that he has to be on high alert around me – especially when I arrive wide awake (Luckily most days I am just so tired that I can hardly keep my eyes open).

 

Good leaders understand that trust is important. If people are going to follow you, they must be able to trust that you will do the right things for the right reasons and not go off-step. Of course at the centre of this is ethics. When I bare my soul while dancing I have to trust that Tony has the ethical fibre of an instructor who will not use that against me. Trust is a feeble thing. So difficult to build and so easy to destroy. I guess what makes it more complicated is that trust can mean different things to different people. So many will start off by looking at you through the lenses of their own frame of reference. You may start at a below zero point in their eyes simply because of your background or/and appearance. As a woman of colour, I have experienced situations where my motives were questioned simply because the other person comes from a background where there is a belief that people of colour are not trustworthy. Although it is not fair to project that on me, I have to understand that it is their reality and thus becomes my reality. The only way one can counterbalance that is to stay true to what is right and remain consistent. Eventually the truth always triumphs. It is however naïve to think that everyone will simply just trust you because you say that you are trustworthy. You demonstrate it over time. Eventually you win people over when they see that you’re consistently doing the right thing (unless of course they allow their prejudices to trump justice).

 

It is important for leaders to know that they do not operate in a vacuum and that they need to be aware of how others interpret the context around them. Not always easy because some people are just tone deaf when it suits them. The more power in your side of the corner, the greater the responsibility in your hands and the bigger the need to first consider the impact and its ripple effects of your next move, before you make it. Leaders, who do not consider who it is they are dancing with, run the risk of steering a situation in the wrong direction all together. Who you’re dancing with as well as how you dance with others does not only impact on your reputation, but also shapes your legacy. This should lead you to dance in a responsible manner.

I often wonder whether leaders consider how their steps impact on those they are dancing with. Do we spend enough time on assessing the context as well as our dance partners correctly? Do we understand that it is unethical to break the souls of those we dance with -  those who are under our care? 

 

3.       Learning to dance well takes time

These days my weekly lesson is late in the evening, which means that very few people get to see me dance (just as I prefer it, as entering the dance dimension with distractions around me is rather difficult for me). On the odd occasion I get people complimenting my dancing. My response normally is to immediately say that it took years to get there. And it did. Make no mistake, I’m by no means a pro, but I’m not too bad for an amateur. It did take years though. One advances from the more simple steps to the complex ones over time, but it also takes time (unless you are, unlike me, super talented of course) to get pass the steps into the fluidity where the movement draws people in, compelling them to watch and sense a glimpse of the dance dimension.

 

A principle that many don’t understand is that there is no substitute for the foundation. This is the hard part. Truth is, there is nothing that is truly worth it that comes without a challenge. Like the beginning of a movie that sets the scene, the beginners’ classes are vital. The more time you spend on getting the basics right, in particular how the steps relate to a particular type of music, the more creative you can become later as you graduate to a higher level of dancing. This is where many either fall off the bus or become stuck. Building your foundation is tedious and can become boring. You have to understand that it is part of the process and vitally important to entering the dance dimension later. I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again. My boredom level is quite low, but in hindsight, I needed to go through the boring stuff to get to the fluid interpretation of the music. It’s like learning a new language. If you skip some important steps in the process, you may very well find yourself horribly exposed when you start to play in the big leagues.

 

The understanding that wisdom in leadership takes time to build, seems to fast becoming a lost concept. With the younger generation coming through one is too often observing a haste which results in job hopping, which in turn impacts on the individual’s ability to build enough depth. The same applies to those who have spent some time on becoming technically strong, but have neglected the foundation building necessary in soft skills and in particular leadership. Wisdom is not shaped by knowledge alone, but certainly by a great deal of experience. Having the book knowledge does not mean that you will be able to stand through the tests and trails brought by the intense winds reserved for the higher trees. Too many want to leap to leadership positions without spending the time laying that all important foundation.  It may be tedious and boring to spend time in the trenches before leaping into leadership positions, but it remains a necessary precursor to mature leadership.

 

The more you practice, the more you will improve your dancing. More in my next blog……..

 

Tags:  challenge  change  Claudelle von Eck  context  dance  ethics  foundation  governance  lead  leaders  leadership  trust 

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We mourn the loss of another one of our own

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 08 February 2017

Today the IIA South Africa, standing with the leadership of the IIA Lesotho, pays tribute to one of our own, who has fallen far too soon. He was shot and killed on the night of 06th February 2017. Ignatius Nteso was the Chief Audit Executive of the Lesotho Electricity Corporation and one of the founding members of the IIA Lesotho. Committed to the Profession, one could always expect to find him on the front line. He certainly set an example that had always made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

I also considered him a friend. He was one of those members who always had a smile on his face and managed to make me feel special whenever he saw me. Ignatius’ welcoming embrace will always linger with me.

This is not going to be a lengthy blog. I am hopelessly too emotional to say much more, but invite those who knew him to add their tributes to this blog. I was really hoping that I would not have to report that yet another internal auditor had been murdered. But,..…here I am sitting with tears in my eyes. This one is close to the bone, because I knew him personally.

The profession has lost a hero. May we always remember him and may his soul rest in peace. The Institute’s heartfelt condolences and prayers are with his team and all of his loved ones. He leaves behind a wife and three lovely daughters. My heart aches for them. Please remember them in your prayers.

I encourage his team to soldier on in the interest of the greater good. We stand with you. We eagerly await swift action from the authorities and hope to see the perpetrators brought to justice. This is an opportunity for the authorities to show that internal auditors are under their protection and that they value the profession.

Rest in peace, Ignatius. We will miss you. I will miss you.

Tags:  Internal auditor; Ignatius Nteso; killed; murder;  

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When professionals breach the Code of Ethics

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 03 July 2016

Just the other day I was challenged by a member of ours who told me that he was very concerned about the fact that when we talk about intimidation we only do so in the context of the clients. What he meant was that we talk about internal auditors being intimidated by those they audit and never about intimidation within the internal audit fraternity itself. The former scenario has become very pervasive and does warrant our attention and intervention, hence the formation of the Anti-Intimidation and Ethical Practices Forum (www.aefp.co.za). He is right though. Although not as pervasive, we do need to talk about those within the profession whose conduct bring the profession into disrepute.

The scenario this member sketched to me was that of a Chief Audit Executive who had breached the Code of Ethics and had started to victimise the said member because he had revealed the breach. Without giving the CAE the opportunity to defend himself, I cannot conclude that the story is true. However, it is not the first time that I’ve heard such an accusation. I find it rather disconcerting and I worry about the fact that there is often fire where there is smoke. One would like to believe that internal auditors are above reproach, but I guess it would be naïve to believe that there wouldn’t be any weak links in the chain.

In this context, it is important that we encourage internal auditors to continually measure themselves against the Code of Ethics. We should, in the process, not fall into the trap of thinking that ethics is only about not committing fraud or being involved in corruption (although these are very important aspects and not to be downplayed either). Unfortunately we tend to allow fraud and corruption to overshadow the discourse around ethics and miss other real ethical issues we face on a daily basis. For example, let me go back to the member I mentioned above. If a senior uses her position of power to intimidate or victimise a subordinate, that would be a breach of the Code of Ethics. Bullying, and thus ruling by fear, goes against the grain of professional conduct. Unfortunately many in leadership positions are often unaware of the fact that their bullying tactics are in actual fact unethical and they have a tendency of finding means to justify their behaviour in their own minds.

However, lest I be accused of picking on the leadership and creating the impression that bullying is only a top down behaviour, let me hasten to say that leaders could also find themselves in a position where they are being bullied or victimised by subordinates. I have first-hand seen the effects of a saboteur who attempted to assassinate the leader’s character, simply because he could not handle being told that what he had produced was not good enough. So, it is not inconceivable that a CAE may fall victim to a disgruntled subordinate. Needless to say, internal auditors who engage in character assassination (whether it is top down or bottom up) are in breach of the Code of Ethics and there is no justification for behaviour that is aimed at damaging an innocent person’s career and reputation. Let me also hasten to add that character assassination could happen in a deliberate manner, but also in an “innocent” manner through gossip. It is amazing how many people in senior positions do not think twice about tearing someone’s reputation apart behind their back, without one single thought dedicated to the fact that they are in breach of the Code of Ethics. I have to, of course, silently throw in a question around whether it is ethical to watch someone being victimised, bullied, intimidated and not say anything? Just asking…

Similarly stepping over the line by treating someone badly because of the colour of their skin, their gender, age etc. would be breaching the Code of Ethics. For those of us who have grown up in the South African context, vigilantly guarding against allowing our prejudices, born out of a shameful past, clouding our judgement and conduct is imperative. It is so easy to fall into the pattern of societal structures and contribute to the systemic challenges rather than being part of the solution - which often requires some sacrifice. If the Institute received a complaint against an internal auditor who has made some racist remarks, could we ignore it? Actually there are ethical implications in making racists remarks, thus directly speaking to the Code of Ethics. The same goes for sexism, tribalism, xenophobia etc. One would therefore expect that internal auditors would ensure that they do not breach the Code of Ethics by degrading others, no matter what background they come from. In the same vein, one would expect that internal auditors would ensure that there is no discrimination in how people are treated in their findings and recommendations. For example, it would be very disturbing if we were to find that an internal auditor goes all out to expose someone because she is of a different race while covering for those who are of the same race as he is.

Some examples of other areas where we could ask the question “is this ethical?” include:

  • Manipulating others by ‘massaging’ the truth. Very few things are as disconcerting as catching an internal auditor in a lie.
  • Utilising your position of power to force others to accept your position or ideology against their will.
  • Not owning up to mistakes and letting others be the scapegoat/fall-guy.
  • Being aware of unethical practices and not exposing them because you are afraid of what the cost will be to you personally.
  • Shooting the messenger because she carries an inconvenient truth.
  • Judging information based on who it comes from instead of interrogating the facts.
  • Asking others to break the rules so that your tardiness can be covered. Shockingly, at the Institute we have had to deal with requests that include issues like being asked to falsify documents, sneak in submissions after an absolute deadline, confirming employment of someone who no longer works for us etc. 

I could go on and on, but you get the gist of it. Adhering to a Code of Ethics is not as straightforward as it seems. It requires continual self-reflection and self-correction. We do however need to self-police too. When a professional breaches the Code of Ethics it is incumbent on her fellow professionals to report her to the Professional Body of which she is a member. One of the key roles of a Professional Body is to hold its professionals accountable against a Code of Ethics. I am proud to say that the IIA SA has all processes in place to meet this obligation. For more information on the Disciplinary Procedures, please go to our Bylaws on our website.

Tags:  AEPF  bullying  character assassination  Code of Ethics  discrimination  Ethics  fear  Internal audit  internal auditors  intimidation  leadership  Professional Body  racism 

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It's a noble idea, but....

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 27 January 2016

It is a noble idea, but……

 

In one of my previous blogs I made reference to the fact that attention is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity. The busier we become the less we pay real attention to what is in front of us. Too often we find ourselves just skimming off the surface and accept what others propose as uncomplicated truth. Sometimes we can get away with it, but sometimes our lack of real insight can cost us dearly. Internal auditors are among those who actually cannot afford to not apply their minds to what is in front of them. Coming up with findings and recommendations that are not based on deep reflection and rooted in forward thinking, could cost the organisation dearly. Internal audit’s recommendations, when implemented, could trigger frame-breaking change within the organisation. This is not always a good thing, depending on the consequences and impact of that recommendation being implemented - whether intended or unintended.

There are a number of areas where we tend to take a textbook approach instead of allowing common sense to prevail. Over the years I have discovered that the text books gave me very valuable information, but often very theoretical and not addressing the complexities that come with practice. I would therefore caution internal auditors to not just jump on the “best practice” wagon without clearly thinking about applicability within the context that they find themselves in. Sometimes “best practice” works in some settings and not in others. We also have to be careful that we do not look at our world through naïve eyes without exploring the iceberg under the waterline. Too often we grab onto what is a noble idea, but we do not think about applicability, impact and possible consequences. Allow me to give some examples.

Good leaders bring out the best in people. Noble idea, but….

This is not always true. Leaders do not have magical powers that allow them to bend people to their will, irrespective of how benevolent they are. Typically, leaders would find that, if they practice good leadership, most people will follow. However, not all followers interpret the leader’s intentions and actions correctly and can quite easily react the opposite way than what could reasonably be expected. Sometimes good leaders bring the worse out in people. Before you lambast me, hear me out...

Leadership has as much to do with the follower than it does the leader. Sometimes the follower is not mature enough or not yet ready to serve under a particular leader. For example, a man who has grown up in a patriarchal system may find it very difficult to adjust to a female leader and may resist her leadership, especially when she needs to reprimand him. An individual who is very insecure and prone to create conspiracy theories in his or her head may consistently misinterpret the leader’s intentions and become hostile. An overly ambitious individual may see themselves in a race to catch up with the leader and overtake her. This could create an unhealthy competition in the individual’s head which pitches her against the leader. Where an individual has the dethronement of the leader in his sights or does not respect the leader based on the person’s gender, race or age, or is very insecure etc, it is quite likely that the leader would bring out the worse in that individual.

I have heard so many stories of good people in tough leadership positions who have had to fight inconceivable battles. One that immediately comes to mind is a CEO who had to deal with an elaborate plot to dethrone him by the CFO who had intimidated and coerced staff members into lying about the CEO’s actions, thus pitting the CEO against the Board. There was blood on the floor and the CEO had not seen that one coming. Often such individuals are wolves in sheep’s clothing and only reveal their true intentions when they are ready to strike. Thankfully in my experience such individuals are in the minority, but it can be very disconcerting for those who believe that by being good leaders they will always bring out the best in all of those under their care. When you are in a leadership position and fancy yourself to be a good leader, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that by being a good leader each follower will allow you to bring the best out in them. Similarly internal auditors can naively believe that working in the best interest of the organisation will always result in them bringing the best out in people. Unfortunately not everyone likes the idea of being exposed and the responses of some can be lethal.

Doing the right thing will result in desirable consequences. Noble idea, but…

I have always believed that doing the right things for the right reasons will result in the right consequences. This is certainly a noble idea and I firmly believe that doing the right things for the right reasons should be one of our guiding principles. However, one cannot assume that everyone around you interprets your words and actions as you have intended. One can also not assume that what you believe is right will resonate with everyone around you. When you have opposing views and everyone believes that they are doing the right thing for the right reasons, it can be very difficult to steer through the situation.

It is important that one starts off from the premise that your view of what is right is informed by your frame of reference and that you should test whether your view of what is right is not tainted by your own biases. Similarly one needs to consider that those who oppose your views may be doing so because their view of what is right is tainted by their own biases. Acknowledging that those who oppose you may not be doing so out of malice, but out of genuine believe that they are doing the right thing, is not always an easy pill to swallow, especially when you believe that you are championing a righteous cause.

The more difficult ones to deal with is when you are being opposed by those who have self-interest in the game, especially those who do not acknowledge to themselves that their position is more about self-interest than it is about the greater good. When you are dealing with such opponents, doing the right thing may come with a higher price tag than what you had anticipated. We teach internal auditors that they must stand for what is right, even when they stand alone. I don’t’ think that we tell them often enough that it can come at a rather high price. This is of course not said to discourage individuals from doing the right thing. Standing for what is right should be non-negotiable. It is important however, that one does walk into situations with your eyes open and that you understand that standing for what is right may rattle those with wrong intentions and getting to the desirable consequences may be much more difficult than what it should be. There is always a price tag. Key question is: Can you afford the price tag that comes with not doing the right thing?

Strategy determines success. Noble idea, but…

Strategy is about how the organisation gets to its destination. Having a clear and strong strategy in place is very important to the ultimate success of an organisation. Without a clear pathway everyone could be walking in different directions and miss the mark. It is therefore no surprise that the leadership spends much time on the formulation of strategies. It is of paramount importance that internal auditors are intimately familiar with the strategy and the related risks in order to provide real value. Where some often miss the mark is in thinking that the strategy is the be all and end all and that a good strategy will naturally translate into success. Noble idea, but….

Strategy must be underpinned by an appropriate structure, the right resources and, very importantly, the ability to implement before we can start talking about it leading to success. Equally important is the culture of the organisation. When we talk about Integrated Reporting, one of the questions that often comes up is around how much of the strategy do you reveal. My take is that the competitive advantage is not in the strategy, but rather in the ability to implement it. Two organisations may have similar strategies, but the one outruns the other because it has a structure, culture, skill set and leadership that gives it superior ability to implement the strategy. Wrong structures, destructive cultures, inadequate skill sets and poor leadership are often the culprits in strategies falling flat. Internal auditors should therefore look at these areas in relation to the strategy. Telling the leadership that they do not have what it will take to successfully implement the strategy is one of those difficult conversations that very seldom takes place.

Every organisation must have succession plans in place for key positions. Noble idea, but…

It is important that the leadership considers the impact on the organisation in the event of the loss of a key person and mitigate against that risk. The obvious answer is to ensure that there is a succession plan in place and generally that is a good answer. However there are complexities to consider, as succession plans do not always end in the desired outcome. Sometimes king-making can go horribly wrong.

Here are some examples of issues that should be considered:

  1. The length of time the heir apparent is willing to live in the shadow of the leader is an important factor. The leader would obviously identify a strong individual who has what it takes to take over from him or her. The challenge with this is that strong leaders in the making at some point want to spread their wings. If they get to a point where they feel that the leader has become their ceiling and they are stuck under an individual they have outgrown, the risk of losing them increases. Losing the successor before the leader vacates the position means moving back to square one. The younger the leader, the greater that risk. If the leader is close to retirement, it becomes easier to keep the carrot in front of an heir apparent.

  2. When the leader and the heir apparent have vastly different leadership styles, this could lead to unhappiness and even clashes between the two. This in turn could result in the successor leaving and sending the organisation back to the drawing board.

  3. Sometimes the successor becomes impatient at the waiting game and conspires against the leader to force an early departure. This could take the form of sabotage, character assassination, open battles and the like. I am hearing more and more cases of leaders who have to deal with character assassinations. Many internal auditors are finding themselves in that position too. Apparently this is a new weapon of choice in some geographical areas and industries.

  4. The leader may only find out after the appointment that the individual does not have everything it takes. At this point the successor’s expectations may already have been raised and any backtracking may create a bitter individual who can become vindictive and sabotage wherever he can find an opportunity to do so. It is much easier in larger organisations to groom people through the ranks and identify strong individuals with a strong loyalty to the organisation. Not so easy in smaller organisations with flatter structures.

  5. The earmarked successor could find herself underprepared because the leader is unable to let go of some of the reigns. Where the leader is insecure, the succession plan could be sabotaged from the top. This defeats the objective and still leaves the organisation vulnerable.

  6. Sometimes leaders choose and groom successors that are carbon copies of themselves without taking into consideration what the next life cycle of the organisation will require. The leader may be a perfect match for the current cycle, but not for the next at which point she should ideally exit. For example, the organisation may need to go through a period of significant changes and needs a leader who is more of a “hatchet man”. The next phase may require a “maintenance man” who can bed down the changes from the previous phase and institutionalise the resultant practices. These require very different leadership styles. If the leader grooms another “hatchet man” it could cause long-term damage.

  7. If there isn’t an individual who undeniably stands head and shoulder above the rest, revealing the heir apparent could lead to infighting and a significant amount of politics within the leadership structures, which could detract from the organisation’s ability to deliver.

  8. Where the leader has been larger than life, it may be very difficult for the successor to step into her shoes and be accepted by her peers.

It is important that the Board considers the potential pitfalls and find counteracting measures to minimise the risks. Internal auditors should ask whether the pitfalls have been considered and are included in the strategic conversations.

To me it makes much more sense to talk about Leadership Continuity as oppose to succession planning in the traditional sense, where the common understanding is that individuals are earmarked for particular leadership positions. Leadership Continuity speaks to the identification of the critical areas where a leadership vacuum would pose a significant risk and developing continuity plans around those areas. This would include the identification of “caretakers”, that is individuals who would step in on a temporary basis until the organisation has appointed an ideal candidate, as well as continual development of leadership capability to ensure a strong pool of potential leaders the organisation can choose from in the event of an expected or unexpected leadership vacuum.

Ethical leaders never make decisions that harm others. Noble idea, but…

Unfortunately the world does not always provide us with straightforward challenges which make it easy to discern between what is right and wrong. Too often leaders find themselves in a position where they are confronted with ethical dilemmas where two values are pitted against each other. Choosing the one automatically means compromising the other. These dilemmas can push a leader against a wall and force her to choose the lesser of two evils where there is simply no clean outcome. We therefore need to first look at the options the leader was confronted with before we decide to judge her decision harshly. The choice she made could very well have been the lesser of two or more evils.

In my blog, which was published in June 2015, I talked about ethical dilemmas and ethical intelligence. I won’t repeat my thoughts here. Suffice to say that decisions are often fraught with complexity. Sometimes good decisions have negative outcomes and bad decisions positive outcomes. Consider the example of a Board who fires a CEO due to some unethical action on his part, in line with their zero tolerance policy. However the CEO’s premature departure creates a vacuum in the organisation which results in a slump in investor confidence and the business suffering while the Board struggles to find a replacement who has the same deep organisational and industry knowledge as well as business savviness as the ex-CEO. In the meantime political infighting ensues in the absence of a strong leader. This sends the business into a downward spiral and it having to retrench dozens of people. At face value, sticking to their guns on their zero tolerance policy was a good decision, but it was accompanied by bad consequences.

Some thoughts to ponder on. I think that it is so important that we understand that best practice more often than not comes with a flipside of pitfalls that should be given due consideration. Don’t just take things at face value and jump onto the bandwagon because someone with a fancy title said it is best practice. Consider all sides before you make recommendations or decisions.

 

Tags:  Claudelle von Eck  consequences  culture  ethical culture  Ethical dilemmas  Ethics  followers  IIA South Africa  Integrated Reporting  Internal audit  Internal auditors  leaders  Leadership  Leadership Continuity  self-interest  strategy  structure  succession plan 

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Ethical dilemmas

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 10 June 2015

I sometimes get the sense that as human beings we have a tendency to avoid thinking too deeply about things because in doing so we would be confronted with having to act on what we discover. That is having to deal with the inconvenient truth. This is often true when it comes to ethics. There are so many instances where really good people make an ethical faux pas. Our immediate response is to question how a person who is considered a good person can act unethically in a certain setting. Is that person simply just unethical at the core and the true colours have come to the fore? Or can one argue that the person was simply just too lazy to apply his/her mind to question the ethical validity of his/her decision in that specific instance? Or is the person's fibre just deficient of ethics intelligence?

The latter statement may be frowned at. What on earth is ethics intelligence? I would define it as the ability to discern when there are ethical implications in an issue and being able to respond appropriately from an ethical perspective. I believe that too often people do not see the underlying ethical issues in a situation and can at times be completely void of sensitivity to the ethical dilemmas at play. Part of the reason may be that we are so busy that we don't have time to think things through. I have at times found myself thinking after the fact that I may overlooked the ethical implications. For example, posting a picture of someone on Facebook without that person's permission. Given the dangers that could lurk on the Internet, e.g. someone using a photograph to steal someone's identity or use it for other unscrupulous means, do I have the right to willy nilly post someone's picture? Given the fact that once a picture is posted on the net there is no telling where it will go, and that it cannot be stopped, should I not pause to think that it may be unethical to post without permission? Does the fact that I have taken the picture mean that ownership and use of the subject matter automatically transfers to me? Irrespective of what harm may come to the person whose picture I have taken? What about posting pictures of minors who cannot give legal consent and do not understand the implications, e.g. paedophiles lurking on the net? Many people have the habit of posting other people's pictures and the ethical implications have not even crossed their minds. The increasing complexities in our world is breeding ground for ethical dilemmas.

Here is a another example. A pet peeve of mine is smokers lighting their cigarettes in the presence of others with complete disregard for the impact they have on those people's health. The harmfulness of second hand smoke is well documented. So, you would have a smoker being careful not to throw a cigarette out of the car window for fear that a bird my pick it up thinking it is food, and yet have no regard for the impact on fellow human beings. Is it ethical? Even when you have their permission to smoke in their presence?

I have used everyday examples to illustrate my point. The world of business is filled with ethical dilemmas that lurk just under the surface. If we don't scratch deep enough, we may just miss them completely and fall prey to unethical behaviour or decisions that may harm others. Often leaders do not think about the ripple effect of their decisions that may have dire consequences for some. Yet when we talk about ethics and ethics training, the knee jerk reaction is often: "asking me to go on such training implies that I do not have integrity". I am amazed at how many people in today's world think that they do not need to be trained in ethics. It does then make it difficult to get to the real conversations we should have around ethics. I found this piece on the internet, which I think aptly describes just how difficult ethical dilemmas can be and that we can be found wanting if we do not apply our minds to difference scenarios in order to prepare ourselves to think rigorously through difficult settings.

"In 1842, a ship struck an iceberg and more than 30 survivors were crowded into a lifeboat intended to hold 7. As a storm threatened, it became obvious that the lifeboat would have to be lightened if anyone were to survive. The captain reasoned that the right thing to do in this situation was to force some individuals to go over the side and drown. Such an action, he reasoned, was not unjust to those thrown overboard, for they would have drowned anyway. If he did nothing, however, he would be responsible for the deaths of those whom he could have saved. Some people opposed the captain's decision. They claimed that if nothing were done and everyone died as a result, no one would be responsible for these deaths. On the other hand, if the captain attempted to save some, he could do so only by killing others and their deaths would be his responsibility; this would be worse than doing nothing and letting all die. The captain rejected this reasoning. Since the only possibility for rescue required great efforts of rowing, the captain decided that the weakest would have to be sacrificed. In this situation it would be absurd, he thought, to decide by drawing lots who should be thrown overboard. As it turned out, after days of hard rowing, the survivors were rescued and the captain was tried for his action. If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?"

Internal auditors have an important role to play in promoting an ethical culture in an organisation. Yet, too often assurance is only given from a tick box approach. Internal audit should look deeper than just being satisfied that the organisation goes through the right motions. What I would like to see is more discussion within the top tiers of management around what potential ethical dilemmas their staff and other stakeholders may face and start conversations around those issues. That will go a long way toward sensitizing people around the right issues and building ethics intelligence. I think internal audit, as a best practice adviser, should gently push management in that direction.

Tags:  Claudelle von Eck  ethical culture  Ethical dilemmas  Ethics  Ethics Intelligence  IIA SA  IIA SA CEO  IIA South Africa  Internal audit  Internal auditors 

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Am I my brother's keeper

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 18 February 2014

I saw a stunning quote the other day (I have no idea whose brain had come up with it, but I must admit that I was rather jealous at the fact that I had not thought of it first): "Don't tell me the sky is the limit while there is a footprint on the moon". It just reminded me of how easily we can put limitations on ourselves. We don't just put limitations on ourselves as individuals, but also on ourselves as teams, societies, nations. In the process, we deprive others of what we are meant to contribute to the collective. 

It is that notion of responsibility toward the collective that we have somehow lost over the centuries. Our ancestors understood that concept, as is so aptly captured in the principles of Ubuntu (I am because you are. You are because we are). Our ancestors understood that we are all intrinsically linked and that our actions/non-action has a ripple effect through the collective. They were not as backward as we think they were. They actually understood what quantum physics has now confirmed. We are linked, irrespective of gender, race or creed. We have however over time allowed an individualistic view of the world to overtake our thinking and replace our value system which used to be founded in collectivism, with a worshipping of self. This seems to be a worldwide phenomenon. It is just that some cultures had descended into individualism quicker than others. The biggest danger herein is that the worshippers of self are at risk of very quickly fall prey to greed, selfishness and a narrow view of the world that excludes the wellbeing of others. 

It is therefore no wonder that we are seeing an increase in the gap between the haves and have-nots, an escalation in corruption and fraud, increased levels of risky behaviour at the expense of vulnerable stakeholders, leaders working in the interest of self instead of the people they are meant to serve, leaders abusing their power and bullying the vulnerable as well as indifference toward the suffering of the vulnerable. And let us not forget the fact that the social media has given us another platform for self-worship. It just absolutely amazes me that we are insisting on staying on the course of individualism despite the destruction it leaves in its course. Is the modern man incapable of seeing his fellow man as an extension of himself and that by hurting others he hurts himself in the process? The scary part of course is that the inevitable end result is not a pretty picture. History has taught us over and over again that the systems that overindulge in self generally end up in self destruction. Look at how many empires had fallen over the ages. The seeds of destruction are indeed sown in times of prosperity. Humans do tend to rise up from the ashes and start afresh, but that comes at such a high price. One would think that we would have become a little more enlightened given the context of our history. Yet we seem resolute on making the same mistakes over and over again. 

To put that footprint on the moon was not an individual effort. There was a whole team at NASA that worked in unison to go beyond the sky. When we work in the interest of the collective we can step onto the moon. My mind can hardly begin to grasp what we would be able to achieve if each human being started to not only look after his/her interest, but also the interest of others and the greater good. We would not have such a wide gap between the rich and poor. Nobody would go to bed hungry. Our water supplies would not be polluted by mines not caring how they affect the environment. Our taxes would be well spent and our fiscal coffers would not be looted by so-called leaders or civil servants. Nobody would take more than what they need. Nature would not be plundered as it is now. The weak would not be trampled on by those who have more power. We would see the humanity in each individual and treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves. In such a context we would understand that I am my brother's keeper after all and that it does indeed take a whole village to raise a child. We would understand the notion of responsibility and understand that the world does not revolve around us as individuals. We would actually see equality in action. 

It is that idealistic view of what the world could be that we need in this profession. Many have said that internal audit is the conscience of the organisation. That resonates with me. Internal audit is uniquely positioned to speak to the conscience of the organisation by giving a fair amount of attention to the culture of the organisation. We need to ask whether the organisation is based on individualism where it is everyone for himself in a dog eat dog environment, or does the leadership set the right tone that fosters an organisation that applies fairness and ethical standards? Does the culture have the ingredients for a sustainable future? This of course means that internal auditors would inevitably need to initiate difficult conversations which ask for a certain amount of maturity and courage. We have to ask whether our organisations are good corporate citizens. Somebody has to put a mirror in front of the organisation's leaders without fear or favour. Somebody has to tell the emperor he is naked. 

It is so important that we do not forget that our organisations have a role to play in our economies. If the culture in the organisation does not lead to a sustainable future, the organisation deprives society from the contribution it is supposed to make to the economy and the wellbeing of the community it operates in. Similarly, if we only focus on self, we rob others of what we are meant to contribute to the collective. Who, I ask, gives us the right to deprive others from what we are meant to contribute to the greater good? 

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Have we created a generation of bullies?

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 07 June 2013
Updated: 22 August 2013

When I listen to members who recount incidents of intimidation and victimization, I have to wonder why it has become so prevalent in our times. And it is not just the overt type that I am talking about here. There are so many subtle varieties that come in many guises. They are so subtle sometimes that only our subconscious picks up on what is happening to us. In such cases we may not even be aware of the influence such subtle intimidation tactics have over our actions or decisions. We could be manipulated into doing someone's bidding without realising that we have been used.

Essentially that is what it boils down to when one is being intimidated, victimized or manipulated: we are being used to further someone else's agenda.

The overt tactics can be frightening. It can get as bad as someone truly fearing for their lives with very good reason. The covert tactics may not make one immediately feel like you are in a horror movie, but can be just as damaging when it dawns on the individual that they have been duped into furthering unscrupulous agendas.

Let me start by talking about those overt tactics, where the assailant is in one's face with open threats. It is very difficult to stand your ground in those circumstances when you perceive the bully to be stronger than you are. That person may be stronger because they are in a more senior or powerful position and may hold your job in their hands or because they are willing to take the fight into realms where you are not willing to fight. I specifically used the word ‘job' here instead of ‘career', as so many are not able to separate their jobs from their careers. Your career has a much longer lifespan than your job. Thus if someone could give the death blow to your job, this does not mean your career is over. Therefore if one fears for your career instead of understanding it is only the current job that is in jeopardy, the assailant may appear much stronger than he or she is and it becomes much more difficult for us to stand for what is right.

On the other hand where the assailant is willing, and able, to take the fight into realms we cannot afford to go to, such as exerting bodily harm, standing your ground can be very difficult. Would you stand up for what is right against an aggressive bully who does not hesitate to attack physically or threaten your family? Sadly many back off when they are being threatened and the end result is that the perpetrators get away with murder. I encourage you to watch the video in which I interview Steven Powell. He has some great advice for those who find themselves in dangerous situations.

These tactics are often deployed when the assailant fears exposure. A trapped animal would do just about anything to free itself - even turn on its own. This begs the question: have we descended into animalistic behaviour where it is about the survival of the fittest and, when we are trapped, we refuse to own up and choose to harm others in attempts to conceal our guilt? Has the South African history created a context for such behaviour to thrive – where evil bullies good into submission? Are we at the mercy of the world we have created? Is it time for some soul searching to seek the answer to the question: why have we created the leaders we have, where intimidation is part of how transactions are entered into?

Then there are the covert tactics, which range from subtle to not so subtle. Let me talk about some of them which we should be alert to. This list is of course not exhaustive. I have selected a few to illustrate my point.

There is the antagonist who refuses to admit, even to himself, that he has done something that has hurt others in the process. This is a difficult breed to deal with because he has convinced himself that he is innocent. Putting a mirror in front of this individual may do the trick, but could also illicit more aggressive behaviour as these people typically do not like being exposed. The mirror should therefore ideally not be put up in public if retaliation is to be avoided.

Then there is the aggressor who pretends to be completely oblivious to her behaviour. She knows that she is subtly victimising others, but plays dumb. It can be hard to see through this individual's façade because they tend to be nice on the outside. A sure way to deal with this individual is to stick to the facts and not be blindsided by the façade of innocence.

Then there is the aggressor who offers veiled threats. There is a definite threat, but it is offered in such a way that one cannot point a direct finger at this individual and accuse him of threatening you. This is the typical "pinching in the dark” type of behaviour. Often what works is to be very direct with this person and clarify matters on the table in front of others to avoid opportunity for the "pinching in the dark”. Individuals who offer veiled threats often would want to avoid being exposed as aggressors.

A rather dangerous one is the individual who uses charm and seemingly supporting others in order to lower their defences. These charming individuals often get away with murder as people realise too late that this person is not really as nice as she lets people believe. By then the person could already have wreaked some serious havoc. It is hard not to fall for this individual's charm as they have often charmed their way up the ladder and find themselves in powerful positions as a result. When a charming individual in a powerful position is nice to you, it can be very difficult to see that she is actually an aggressor. One certainly needs to have your wits around you when dealing with these people and be certain not to be blind to the facts as a result of the oozing charm.

There is of course also the aggressor who plays the role of victim to illicit sympathy. This individual is skilled in presenting himself as the victim, when in actual fact he is the real perpetrator. They turn the story around so quickly that, if one is not careful, you may end up sympathising with them thinking that they have been hurt unduly.

A rather dangerous aggressor is the one who uses his position and influence to vilify the victim. He often successfully portrays the victim in such a light that others doubt the victim's innocence or credibility. He knows that if the focus is on the victim, who is now portrayed as the aggressor, the negative attention is deflected away from him. Another form of this aggressor is the one who shifts or projects the blame onto others.

Of course internal auditors need to see the woods from the trees in this regard. It is important for internal auditors to see through the games people play and understand the environment in which the games are played. More importantly when those games are dangerous and are played with underlying or covert aggression to manipulate, we should be even more vigilant. It is so important that we don't lose sight of the facts and that we are not side tracked by the games.

It is also very important that internal auditors not only look at this as a reality from their own personal perspectives, but to be aware of how these very dangerous games can be become red herrings in the organisation. Internal audit leaders should be aware of how these games impact on their staff, but also on how others in the organisation are affected by bullies who are only there to further their own cause. The cost of stepping back or turning a blind eye is essentially allowing evil to prevail. If we don't stand up for what is right, what will the consequences be?

But, an even more important question we need to ask ourselves: Am I certain that I am not the aggressor in the story? Tough question….

Follow me on Twitter: @cvoneck

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Accountability and Strong Leadership

Posted By Claudelle von Eck, 21 February 2013
Updated: 22 August 2013

It is hard to believe that we are already being confronted with Easter when walking into shops, while it feels like we have just been able to shake the slumber of the festive season. We entered the new year hitting the tar running and 2013 is already promising to be a very busy year. With dark clouds still resting over the global economy and the downgrading of the economic outlook for South Africa, this certainly points to a period abuzz with counteracting measures to ensure a more favourable outcome. Of course internal auditors have a significant role to play in the process. The proof is in the pudding. It is our ability to implement our grand plans that will determine whether we will be successful or not. Internal auditors are such a crucial element in the determination of our ability to implement, spotting the risks and determining whether the controls are adequate as well as measuring performance.

When I look at the grand plans for South Africa in the National Development Plan, I am convinced that internal auditors can play a significant role in ensuring that we do not once again fall apart on implementation. The following priorities have been highlighted which have had me reflecting on internal audit's ability to make a positive contribution in relation to the grand plan.

  • Uniting all South Africans around a common programme to achieve prosperity and equity.
  • Promoting active citizenry to strengthen development, democracy and accountability.
  • Bringing about faster economic growth, higher investment and greater labour absorption.
  • Focusing on key capabilities of people and the state.
  • Building a capable and developmental state.
  • Encouraging strong leadership throughout society to work together to solve problems.

The key words that jump out at me are accountability and strong leadership. Without these elements in place, we are probably doomed for failure. It is therefore really encouraging to see these words reflected in the priorities set. And these priorities are indeed ambitious, but absolutely necessary for our survival. The only thing I would have added to leadership is ethics. You can be a strong leader, but steer in an unethical manner. Of course we need to start by looking at ourselves in the mirror and ask to what degree we are living the principles of accountability and to what degree are we displaying strong ethical leadership.

I am very concerned about the apparent diminished nature of accountability in our society. Is it because we have created an environment where we do not see the need to be accountable? I remember a time when "it takes a whole village to raise a child”, was the order of the day and children knew that they were accountable to all adults. If an adult noticed that you were naughty, you would be reprimanded. If your parents found out about it, you would be reprimanded again. Today a child turns around and tells the adult that he has no right to reprimand him because he is not his parent. If his parents found out about it, they would reprimand the other adult for daring to reprimand their child. If there is no accountability during the early stages of development, it is probably to be expected that our society would be filled with many individuals who, as adults, feel no sense of accountability.

I therefore think that we do, as a society, need to become a little more introspective and ask ourselves what our individual contributions have been to the creation of a society where accountability is no longer a sought after virtue. And how do we reverse it? Unless we are able to reverse the current scourge, it is doubtful whether we would be handing over a prosperous country to the next generation. One could of course ask whether we have any obligation toward the next generation. Should we even be concerned about what their reality will be - based on what we have created? The simple answer for me is a definite yes. It is what makes us human – the ability to care for each other. There is of course the simple rule of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. How do we feel about what the previous generation has handed over to us? This introspection does of course require a certain measure of brutal honesty with self. It would ask of us to stop our self-delusion that tells us that we are innocent and that it is only the bad people out there that are contributing to a society that displays very limited ability to be accountable. Every time we keep quiet when we see something wrong, we are complicit to the scourge.

During the Public Sector Forum, which this year ran from 11th to 12th February, the theme of accountability clearly shone through as a recurring thought. It is a concept that seems to be on so many minds and lips, simply because its absence has become so glaringly obvious. The challenge to us now is to turn the tide. Many may think that we have gone too far down the slippery slope, but I think that it is often in chaos that we have the opportunity to renew ourselves. In desperate times we may just have what it will take to turn the ship around. Internal auditors are in a unique position of being able to be that voice that asks for renewal, for the ship to the turned around. Let us be the brave ones who are willing to stand up and speak up. Let us be willing to tell the emperor he is naked when our leadership, in our various settings, is neither strong nor ethical. Speaking up comes at a price, but I submit that keeping quiet in the midst of so much rot comes with a much bigger price tag.

I wish for you all a fruitful year with many moments in which you have displayed that you are indeed a brave soul.

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