24
9
Gini Dietrich

When a Leader Learns of Unethical Behavior

By: Gini Dietrich | December 12, 2013 | 
138

When a Leader Learns of Unethical BehaviorBy Gini Dietrich

When I was a kid, I remember my dad coming home from work one day and saying a guy had been fired.

The image I had in my head was the guy literally on fire. I couldn’t understand a) why anyone would do that to another person and b) why that was okay.

In retrospect, I was probably eavesdropping on a conversation between my parents so it served me right to have that image and all those questions.

What I later learned – much, much later – is being a business leader isn’t always rainbows and sunshine.

You sometimes have to fire people. You sometimes have to have conflict-filled conversations. You sometimes have people who end up hating you (which really, really sucks). And you always have to take responsibility when something goes wrong.

Embezzlement and the IRS

In 2009, as the economy was crashing around us and organizations were shutting their doors, I learned the accountant we used had embezzled money from us.

We owed the IRS a lot of money that we thought we had already paid. Turned out, we had paid it to the accountant who never sent the check, but managed to cash it himself.

It was a great, big mess and it took a long time to figure out what had happened and how he had managed to get a check made out to the government cashed.

But he did.

And, as the leader, I was responsible.

Even though I did everything I was supposed to have done and I had no idea this was going on, it was my responsibility.

There were lots of tears shed and I’m pretty sure I said, “This just isn’t fair” about six thousand times.

But, in the words of my mom, “Life isn’t fair.” (For the record, I still think it wasn’t fair.)

We got the whole thing straightened out and we ended up having to pay quite a bit of money to the IRS, but it could have been a lot worse. There could have been jail time. It could have been really, really bad.

Being a Leader isn’t Always Fair

Sometimes the people you trust to do their jobs do bad things. And you have to take responsibility.

It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. But it’s part of being a leader.

A few months ago, we had a situation where an employee was accused of doing a bad thing. We took the appropriate measures to look into the accusation. We also had conversations with the accused and the accuser. We came up on the side of the employee.

But a couple of weeks ago, new evidence came to light and it pointed in favor of the accuser.

Imagine the panic I felt when this was brought to my attention. Not only did I defend the accused when the issue first came up, I did so very publicly. I completely and wholeheartedly trusted this person. But now the cold, hard facts in front of me proved otherwise.

Hindsight is 20/20

In my hindsight, 20/20 vision, it’s easy to now see the one thing we missed when the situation occurred.

We missed it initially. I missed it.

I live and die by my ethics. The culture here is one of honesty, transparency, and accountability. We hire people who demonstrate those same characteristics.

But sometimes things go awry.

I don’t think this person is bad. I don’t think this situation was done intentionally. It could have been a case of too much work or being overwhelmed or simply wanting to put a best foot forward without thinking through the consequences.

It happened. What’s done is done. I missed – or blissfully ignored – the facts.

Because of that, I owe the community here an apology. I was adamant the transgression hadn’t happened…and I pulled many of you into the conversation about it.

But we did do something unethical. It has been fixed. We now have a change in our process should this ever happen again.

I’m very, very sorry.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

134 comments
Catherineruze
Catherineruze

A true leader does not apologize hiding behind words, a true leader speaks up and publicly apologizes as she publicly undermined the poor accused at the time, when they were merely trying to speak their truth. Gina Dietrich this is not an honest apology, purely a sugar coat apology to make yourself feel better and save face. If you are honestly sorry you should publicly share what the incident was as you freely did when it was made public, and save the reputation of the person you publicly wronged.

KensViews
KensViews

Doing the right thing is always, well, the right thing.You always strive to do the right thing, and correct it when you don't make the mark.What impresses me is your utter bravery in laying out these situations so publicly here on Spin Sucks so others can learn from your example

DougLeavy
DougLeavy

Being a leader is NOT always fun, but you are a good one Gini... are you perfect, no, who is? We all do our best and protect our 'chicks', it's what we're supposed to do. Sometimes we are blinded by that since they are one of our own. You handled this well, I honestly think you did. Once again, you've shown why so many of us respect you. You're human and you're ok with that. :D

janbeery
janbeery

Sweet Gini. We love you, and know where your heart is. We support you always. I'm so sorry...

It's hard to understand why we're experiencing bad things at the time, do we? But, in the end, your integrity, true heart, and beautiful soul will always shine through. Then, with life experience in hand, you willingly help everyone around you to know, there's a light on the other side. xoxoxo

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Thanks, Amy! I'm kind of glad yesterday is over.

manamica
manamica

Wow Gini. You deserve major respect. Way to do the right thing! 

Now, "too much work," and "feeling overwhelmed" are no excuses for unethical behavior. Period. I don't see every working mother start lying and stealing just because they're overworked and overwhelmed. Obviously, I am clueless to what happened here but I do know that everyone has to make those choices and most people choose the ethical path regardless of situation. 

I'd love to learn what principles you've learned and will apply. We're currently discussing the difference between non-negotiables and zero-tolerance principles and how to enforce non-negotiables. It's crazy how much thinking and emotion is going into making the right decisions...

Latest blog post: Lightbugs

Pamela Grow
Pamela Grow

I love you Gini.  What a role model.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

I love you Gini Dietrich, really.  You give me faith in humanity when so many other people undermine it. You are a success story WITH ethics.  You make me want to Lean In so hard to do it my way.

It means a tremendous amount to me, and this entire community. Thank you. 

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

Wow... that's very chilling. 

Sorry to hear you had to do that! That's never something easy to do. But by all morals and ethics, you had to do it. At least I can back you and say you're a prime example of what a leader should be. 

Stay strong, Gini! You're an inspiration to new young pups like me. 

Now, it's a good time to re-evaluate why you think the person was overworked/ stressed to the point where they did what they did. It's always good to learn from mistakes. 

Digital_DRK
Digital_DRK

I am late to the party ...and reasonably new to this community, however I am not surprised in the least that  Gini has stepped up and acknowledged her error in judgement.


This incident (whatever it was) and they way Gini has conducted herself, speaks to her integrity, and sense of responsibility, and only helps to reinforce for me,  and I dare say,  for this entire community,  why we are drawn to associate with you. 


Well done Mrs. D. !!  


(Pretty sure you have kept your spot on Santa's "nice" list......this year) 

rdopping
rdopping

Clearly the mayor of Toronto hasn't learned these lessons himself. We tried to fire him but regardless of his stature he's one slippery son-of-a-gun. Sigh.


No idea who you're talking about here (and I don't need to know) but I am sure glad you sorted it out. I suppose having a procedure for this sort of thing will keep out the riff-raff. That's certainly a GOOD thing.


The accountant thing sucks....he's one of those genuinely bad people. Yuk!

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

Stories like this chill me to the bone. I can't imagine someone stealing so much money and the feeling in the pit of your stomach. It must have been crushing.


Just before Thanksgiving my friend Bob Borson, who writes the "Life of an Architect" blog was robbed. The thieves smashed their way into his house stole his wifes jewelry an one thing of his...a tiny wooden box that I had made for him.

In the early days of my blog I mostly wrote about woodworking. I made a bunch of tiny boxes and because I like to tell stories, gave them names and personalities. It was fun story telling.

The first box, who I named Henry, was my favorite and I even wrote him into my first novel as a clue for the detective of the same name.

I was very poor at the time and so I sold some of my tiny boxes and Bob bought Henry. I was thrilled that he was going to my friends home to live on the mantle.


The thieves took the tiny box and it broke my heart. I cried some.

The point is, it was just a little thing, and I didn't know the thieves, but the pain was real. What you went through must have been 100 times worse...or more, I don't know.

I do know one thing, you have integrity and I think you're awesome for it. I hope that there is karma in the world and that the accountant (and the tiny box thieves) get a whole big helping of it right on top of their heads...causing brain damage and major paralysis.  :-)

Hug.

Latest blog post: Free Kindle Apps

SuziC
SuziC

Gini:

In addition to its primary purpose, there are a number of lessons in this post.

1 - Leading isn't always rosy.

2 - How to issue an apology and do it while preserving "face" for those involved.

Have some wine & chocolate today. You've earned them.

martikonstant
martikonstant

Totally moved by this post. Both examples are disarming. Thanks for sharing the raw facts in real time. So admire the ethics and the willing to share the lessons learned. When I had a communications firm with a staff of eight a few years back, I was once swindled by a customer I trusted. It was a lot of money. The lesson forever changed how I handle business finances. 


As far as making judgements and decisions based on facts (sometimes riddled with emotion), I came out on the wrong side of a bad decision a few times. I was quick to the apology, but the damage is still cringeworthy. Being a leader is a ton of responsibility.


Keep up the great work!

KateNolan
KateNolan

Gini, I'm so sorry you and your team have had to work through this during such an exciting time for AD. You didn't have to post this, but I commend you for sharing this with us. This post reinforces your commitment to integrity and honesty in the industry and shows everyone that it is possible to fully, and sincerely, apologize for mistakes. No generic "mistakes were made" posts here! I'm happy to see you don't plan on letting this affect the trust you have in your team and that you've publicly stated that trust. It sucks when we (intentionally or not) make bad decisions, as we've all done, but you've handled this with grace. I hope the Christmas break brings you plenty of snow to play in and some serious R&R time!

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

Ouch. It's a rough situation all around, but the way you're owning it and learning from it is impressive. I imagine it's exactly what you'd advise your clients to do, come to think of it ...

DebraCaplick
DebraCaplick

@Catherineruze I'm puzzled why you consider this to be a sugar-coated false apology. Publicly sharing the names of those involved does nothing to alleviate the situation, and would only drag it back out for everyone and the world to see. Gini did a masterful job of apologizing publicly without tossing more food to those with morbid curiosity. Those who are familiar with the situation have received the apology, and those of us who don't know what's going on don't need to know. Quite frankly, the identities of those involved are none of our business.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Catherineruze Hi Catherine. Thanks for the different thinking on this. If you were a consistent part of our community, you would likely know which situation I am talking about...and that I did not publicly wrong anyone or harm their reputation. What I did do wrong is publicly defend an employee who I trusted implicitly. Something I think every one of us would want our boss to do. As soon as new facts arose, I got this post written. I did want to mention the incident, but was advised against it by our counsel. 

Latest blog post: The Three Things, Edition 59

belllindsay
belllindsay

@Catherineruze Hi Catherine, while I'm not here to speak for @ginidietrich, I am the content director for Spins Sucks and Arment Dietrich, and as such have been privy to the circumstances of these past few weeks. We have taken all the steps humanly possible from a *legal* perspective, and unfortunately - legally - after many discussions with our attorneys, our hands are tied. We simply are not allowed to publicly share identifying details. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@rdopping I don't know if you listen to Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, which is a podcast on NPR. They have been having a FIELD DAY with Rob Ford for the past several weeks. It makes me laugh so hard!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@KateNolan Thanks, Kate! Maybe I'll write about how we came to this decision. It was kind of a no brainer for me, because of my stance on ethical business behavior, but when attorneys get involved and lawsuits are possible, it makes it harder to be honest and transparent.

SuziC
SuziC

My sentiments exactly, Deb! Thank you for posting!!!!

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@ginidietrich @Catherineruze The legal situation aside (and I've experienced what it's like to have your hands tied whether you want to provide full comment on something or not) - I'm reminded of JFK's Profiles in Courage, where he directly and honestly points out that a hallmark of courage and leadership is not just doing the thing you believe in but also considering the implications for everyone involved and trying to do right by the humans affected, and not just talking points you can refer to later. 


No decisions are made in a vacuum where every bit of information is instantly available and you can easily point out the good and evil, punish and reward appropriately, and always look back without regret at the hard choices. In that respect I think Gini's response and decisions have been ethical, and her apology sincere.  

SuziC
SuziC

I am reminded of a saying my college PR prof was find of saying. "Your best friend is legal."

Certainly, we want legal to be aware of what we're communicating and not be surprised by it. We want to make certain our counterparts can do their job if they are called upon to do so.

When I was lucky enough to have in house counsel, I took advantage of that resource. I even learned a few things, and ultimately, made her job easier.

SuziC
SuziC

Oh, it will likely happen again, but all will know that you'll handle it deftly, graciously, and honestly, Gini. Chin up!

DebraCaplick
DebraCaplick

@ginidietrich @KateNolan " when attorneys get involved and lawsuits are possible, it makes it harder to be honest and transparent."

Isn't that sad?


I'm so sorry you and everyone at AD had to go through this.

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

@ginidietrich Well, at least now you can point to an instance in which you actually do what you recommend. It doesn't exactly make the experience worthwhile, I'd imagine, but still. It's something. Hope you all get a chance to relax this weekend!

Trackbacks

  1. […] these days, with what passes for apologies out there. In her most recent blog post on Spin Sucks, “When a Leader Learns of Unethical Behavior,” Arment Dietrich CEO Gini Dietrich provides a valuable lesson in leadership – and how to say […]

  2. […] a good fit during this time. I had defended my employee after looking at the evidence, much like Gini Dietrich has done in the past, only to find out later this client had valid reasons for concern, reasons I was unaware […]

  3. […] Like a good teacher, the team behind Spin Sucks doesn’t shy away from mistakes. Instead they share those experiences, using them as learning experiences for themselves and their audience, even when those mistakes are their own.  If you want to know what raw, honest content looks like, read this post by Gini Dietrich titled “When a Leader Learns of Unethical Behavior‘. […]

  4. […] is honest and transparent, and very willing to share the lessons she’s […]