Value Systems : Leave Your Ethics at the Door?

Richard Pfohl has worked with various Fortune 500 high-tech, insurance, telecommunications, software, utilities and government organizations. He has been involved with various organizations which promote leadership like CBMC and Vision New England. Presently, Richard is the Leader of the Hartford chapter of CBMC. He is also enrolled in the Doctor of Strategic Leadership Program at Regent University School of Leadership Studies, Virginia Beach, Virginia. He can be contacted via



A common thought process among leaders within the marketplace today is ethics and business doesn’t mix. Leaders believe “business is business” and the same standards necessary for business do not match the principles of ethics. Ethics is something we practice in our personal lives and not in our organizations. In Ethics, the Heart of Leadership Joanne Ciulla observes leaders may not do this because it could cost them their, “prestige, position, profits and success.” Matthew Fox in The Reinvention of Work tells us this becomes a “destructive dualism” for leaders as they place their beliefs and convictions at the corporate door. This view of ethics is expressed by Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz states, “I would never do many of the things in my personal life that I have to do as a lawyer.” The words “I have to do” are troubling when reading his statement. Is Dershowitz forced to be ethical due to some requirement to be an effective lawyer or does he choose to be unethical because his need for prestige, position, profit and success overshadows his need to perform ethically?


In we learn the word ethics comes from the ancient Greek word “ethikos” which means “arising from habit.” If ethics arise from habits then is it possible that unethical behavior in the workplace could be a result of personal ethics? Is it possible that leaders are confronted with ethical dilemmas more often in their professional lives and therefore the true test of their character is not within their controlled home environment but when they come face to face with ethical situations within their profession?


One such leader who seemed to have this ethical dilemma is the former Governor of Connecticut John Rowland. What is interesting about Governor Rowland is the message he is pressing today after being taken out of power and spending time in prison for his behavioral decisions. John Hood tells us that today Governor Rowland speaks on this subject and the arrogance of power and how leaders need an ethical “tether.” Having this tether would “bind them to an ethical code” of conduct. This analogy means leaders need to be anchored in something greater than themselves. To Rowland the arrogance of power is the need for “higher ethical standards among our leaders.” Rowland does not see this standard being limited to politicians but also applies to businessmen, athletes and others within leadership positions. Has John Roland reformed his ways or has he found the origin of his values?


Today one of John Rowland’s main points is even though “legislation and punishment may deter unethical behavior, they cannot touch the human heart.” For Roland this is the root of the issue and as hard as we may try the heart can only be reached through a higher power. In Luke 6:27-34 Jesus gives us what is referred to as the beatitudes which literally means beautiful. This word refers to a heavenly perspective. There are some important lessons which relate to Governor Rowland’s words in this passage. Jesus speaks of those who return good for good but comments that even those who may be unethical will also return good for good. So what is the message for leaders in this passage? Jesus is telling us not to expect a favor for favor relationship but to favor without an expectation of receiving favor. This means leaders should not rely on ethical problems, procedures or others to behave ethically. Leaders should not expect to leave their ethics at the door but to take their ethics with them wherever they go.

The Arrogance of Power

To better understand how Governor Rowland came to this destructive dualism we need to understand the paths he took which led him to where he is today. In 2002 Governor John Rowland was considered a “rising star” within the Republican party. Some believe he may have been a favorite to run for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008. If this is so then why did Governor Rowland choose the path he chose which eventually led to his downfall? Governor Rowland resigned his position in June of 20o4 amidst impeachment proceedings against him. After pleading guilty in December of 2004 to one count of conspiracy to steal honest services, a combination of mail and tax fraud, Governor Rowland served ten months in a federal prison camp followed by four months under house arrest.


What happened which led to these events? In Governor Rowland is reported as saying, “I let my pride get in the way.” Governor Rowland was accused of abusing his power and using taxpayer money to pay for renovations on his summer home. When he was first accused of this unethical behavior he denied it and then later admitted it when he addressed the people of Connecticut for his resignation. Governor Rowland admitted he lied about who paid for renovations to his summer home. He originally claimed he paid for the construction himself. reports that later Governor Rowland admitted “state employees and people wanting to do business with the state paid for the installation of a hot tub, a heating system and cathedral ceilings.” Another allegation was that the people who worked on his summer home received state contracts in return for their services. Governor Rowland denied any truth behind these allegations.


Clearly Governor Rowland did not act in a responsible manner and abused his power as Governor but was this a one time event? On separate occasions Governor Rowland accepted free concert tickets and a below-rate hotel room. There was also an investigation into the sale of his condominium in Washington at an above-market price. According to the State of Connecticut “no governor in Connecticut history has ever been fined for ethical violations.” Governor Rowland was fined three times within his tenure by the ethics committee.


Governor Rowland’s path to unethical behavior clearly began before this event when he had been fined for minor ethical violations. His minor unethical decision making might have led him to believe he could do more as he continued down this path which eventually led to his impeachment. When Governor Rowland was cited for these minor ethical violations this should caused him to realize the destructive path he was going down but he continued and his continuation down this path led to his downfall. We might question what was he thinking or even what was on his heart? Bruce Winston in Be a Leader for God’s Sake reminds us that a leader’s “foundational values yield beliefs” and then these beliefs “yield intentions to behave” and then our “intentions spring actual behavior.” Governor Rowland’s actual behavior was unethical which leads us to question his values, beliefs and his intentions which may be the reason for the path he went down.

The Process of Restoration for Fallen Leaders

Where did the ethics of Governor Rowland originate? Perhaps the destructive dualism described by theologian Matthew Fox may be at play here. Fox tells us that we separate “our lives from our livelihood, our personal values from our work values, our personal needs from the needs of the community.” He goes on to say “money becomes the sole reason for work, and success becomes the excuse we use to justify the immoral consequences of our behavior.” Apparently Governor Rowland left his ethics at the door in his quest for “prestige, position, profits and success.”


So what do we do with our fallen leaders? Do we sweep them under the rug and ensure they no longer have a place within our government, organizations, churches or ministries? In Luke 6:37 Jesus says not to judge unless you are judged, not to condemn unless you are condemned and to pardon so we will be pardoned. The path Governor Rowland went down was clearly unethical. In the same position would we do the same or would we have handled it differently? The answer is not seeing ourselves within the situation to see what “we would do” but in knowing the origin of our values and if they would stand when faced with the decisions John Rowland faced. If Governor Rowland’s values originated in a “higher power” as he later admitted then he would have kept his paths straight as we learn from Solomon in Proverbs 3:5-6.


It is easy to become self-righteous when we are not in the middle of ethical crossroads which Governor Rowland faced and determine how we would have handled the situation. The truth is we do not know how we would come out unless we knew what we came in with. Governor Rowland admittedly did not make these decisions based on a higher power. He was not “tethered” in an origin of values which would convict him of acting in this manner. Since then Governor Rowland has admitted to his shortcomings and has become an advocate for teaching others how to avoid the mistakes he made. Governor Rowland could have done his time and decided to live a quiet life away from this situation but he has chosen to confront it and help others learn from him. Isn’t this what good leader’s do?


We can all learn from each other and if Governor Rowland has something to teach us to help us avoid pitfalls then it should be welcomed. In Proverbs 3:21-26 Solomon advises us to “preserve sound judgment and discernment” for with them we will go on our way “safely” and “will not stumble” nor be “snared.” If Governor Rowland was able to recognize his need for an ethical “tether” before he made any decisions he may still be Governor today.

Your Ethics are Welcome Here

What does this lesson from Governor Rowland mean for leaders? Kouzes and Posner state, “leaders take every opportunity to show others by their own example that they’re deeply committed to the values and aspirations they espouse. Leading by example is how leaders make visions and values tangible.” Jesus led by example and did not miss one opportunity to align others to Kingdom values. It is this example which brings leaders to legitimacy with their followers. When referring to Jesus, George Barna, in Think Like Jesus says, “First, He had a foundation that was clear, reliable and accessible. Second, He maintained a focus on God’s will. Third, He evaluated all information and experiences through a filter that produces appropriate choices. Fourth, He acted in faith.” Through foundation, focus, filter and faith Jesus was an exemplary example of leading through his worldview.


The path Governor Rowland should have taken and leaders need to take is to assure their ethical values are foundational, focused, filtered and acted upon when these moments are presented. Rowland remarked to Valerie Finholm of The Hartford Courant, “when you find yourself only concerned with yourself that is the point when you need to find a ‘grounding force.’” This grounding force is the foundation Barna was referring to and what Rowland himself admits was not present in his decision making process. James O’Toole in Leading Change reminds us that, “what separates effective and moral leaders from ineffective and immoral leaders is how they make those decisions.” Kouzes and Posner present us with the top qualities which followers look for in their leaders. These qualities are: honest, forward-looking, competent and inspiring. What made John Rowland a great leader was his forward-looking, competent and inspiring leadership. What led to his downfall was his dishonesty. This quality is directly related to the relationships leaders have and without this quality relationships are broken.


Leaders who lead with the motto of “Your Ethics are Welcome Here” will certainly be able to cure this destructive dualism and give leaders and followers the freedom to practice their personal ethics in their lives and their livelihood.


Copyright 2007 - Richard Pfohl

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