In this episode, host John Laurito talks with Author, Speaker, and Co-Founder of Noble Edge Consulting, Christopher Gilbert, PhD. They talk about the importance of being an ethical leader and what it takes to become one. Being an ethical leader inspires your employees and everyone around you to behave ethically and helps you in terms of your credibility and reputation. So you have nothing to lose and more to gain.
Dr. Christopher Gilbert is an organizational development professional serving as a strategic facilitator and leadership and operations consultant. With an international clientele, he has accompanied profit and non-profit senior management and cross-functional levels of the Fortune 1000, government agencies and NGOs in the US, Canada, and countries in Asia and Africa.
Whether providing a keynote speech or facilitating a workshop or team coaching session, Dr. Gilbert brings a unique blend of practical experience, humor, and accessible personal connection into all of his work. Dr. Gilbert has extensive experience facilitating executive retreats and Board and management sessions for strategic and operational planning, partnering, collaborative negotiations, building clarity, alignment and execution readiness, and creativity for innovation and product development.
As a specialist in change management, Dr. Gilbert spearheads work in strategic planning, leadership excellence, organizational and team effectiveness, and corporate training solutions. He is a business conduct and sustainability leader, implementing highly successful community responsibility and global engagement programs. He completed work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a ground-breaking, sustainable food security program focused on human capacity development across four nations of sub-Saharan Africa.
Within the sphere of higher education, Dr. Gilbert has served as COO for Bainbridge Graduate Institute and global faculty at the University of Washington and educational institutions in the US, China, Switzerland, Iran, and the Russian Republic.
Connect with Chris:
[2:08] How did Chris get into business ethics?
[6:20] On ethical issues, decision-making
[8:13] Trends on ethical issues
[9:52] To unethical leaders
[13:01] Transparency versus authenticity
[17:07] On leaders not being honest or transparent
[20:19] Mediocre leaders and great ones
[24:43] Chris’ book: The Noble Edge
[25:44] Where to find Chris
John Over the last two decades, I’ve been in an insatiable quest to learn everything I can about leadership, what makes the best leaders so good after running companies small and large over the last 20 years. Today, I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name’s John Laurito. I’m your host, and I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this very topic and what makes the best leader so good. Welcome to tomorrow’s leader! All right, tomorrow’s leaders, so I’ve got a guest today, Chris Gilbert, who is an expert in business ethics. He’s got a really cool story, kind of what prompted him to get into that. But this is a great topic I haven’t had. I don’t think I’ve had another guest on to talk about this. And the reason why I say it’s an interesting topic is because I think a lot of people say, Well, yeah, you know, I’ve got a strong moral compass, so I know what to do. And it’s really black and white. I know the right answer versus the wrong answer.
John There’s sometimes it’s not always the case, and it’s much more complex than that, especially as a leader leading the right culture and helping ensure that everybody in your organization knows when ethics are in question, what situations might come up, how you handle different things. So there’s a lot to this as not just saying, OK, well, I know the difference between right and wrong. So in any event, this was a really good conversation that helps to kind of get you dipped in the water, so to speak. I guess that’s probably the best way to say it and open your eyes maybe a little bit to a whole different category or topic around leadership. So I enjoyed the conversation a lot. I think you’ll enjoy listening to it. And here is Chris Gilbert. All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dove deep on all things leader-related to leading yourself and leading others. I’m John Laurito, your host. I’ve got a great guest for you today. I’ve got Chris Gilbert, who is an international consultant and keynote speaker, speaking on the topics of ethics and organizational development. He’s also the author of The Noble Edge. Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris John, thank you so much. It’s a real privilege.
John Yeah, it’s very, very much a privilege, and you and I have had some great conversations. I love the topic of ethics and certainly an incredibly important topic when it comes to leadership of leading your own life and leading organizations. I’d love to start. Just how did you get into this topic in particular? What was the trigger, the motivator for you to start diving deep into business ethics?
Chris Well, I love to say it’s a simple, happy story. I’ll keep it a simple story, but it’s probably less than happy because we have put together a startup organization. This is back in the mid-80s and gotten about a million and a half in venture capital, which back then was a pretty big deal. And we hired 35 employees. You ran it for about three years and we were looking to expand the business. The business is called cravings. By the way, it was a food delivery company, which is really seeing its heyday now, but this is back in the 80s. At any rate, we started looking at large strategic partners to try and get the money we needed, the capital we needed to expand across the U.S. into three cities and then beyond hopefully was very successful where we were up in a little small provincial town in Bellingham, Washington. But we really needed to get into larger cities, so that’s where we were headed.
Chris We had two organizations really step up to the plate. One of the men came. I spent a month with us looking at the operation and satisfying ourselves that it was good and we were really on the path to doing something fundamentally different in the food delivery business. And they left about six weeks later. We got a note from them, a letter from them saying, You know, sorry, we’re not going to get into this. We’re going to stick with our regular frozen foods and other things. And that way we’ll do the business that we know best. Well, we were obviously very disappointed and we were negotiating with another company at the time, and we discovered about six weeks into all of this that this company that had come out and spent time with us opened a like organization, a mirror organization, if you will, out in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, to kind of keep it quiet because they were just marketing as well.
Chris But it looked exactly like our company. It used the same vehicles that use the same menu. It used the same kind of marketing. And so we were just livid, of course, about this. Our venture capitalist at that point said You know what? This isn’t going to go anywhere if that large company got in first and they’ve got the money, the capital to expand it. So you need to shut down your operation. I think one of the hardest days I ever had was laying off 35 employees, good employees that had been with us for so many years, and shutting the company down. I didn’t think about it at the time, believe it or not, as a business ethics incident. I just was disappointed that we couldn’t move forward on this, and I think we’d be making a lot of money now with so much food delivery happening now. But at any rate, I think that’s really the inkling of the seed that got planted into me. I already had an MBA in business.
Chris I actually went back into teaching at that point as a professor at a number of universities here and around the world. And I just began to think about it that, you know, the decision set that was made by the people that turned us down wasn’t particularly ethical. In fact, it was very unethical, and there had to be another way to think about making better choices and businesses because obviously this just doesn’t happen to us. It’s happened. All the time, all around the world in many different locations, the lots of different businesses, and it’s just not the right way to think about how to earn money over the long term, you know, taking out the smaller folks that couldn’t afford to go to court and argued the point. So I think that’s really what planted the seed. And in my teaching, I started introducing ethics in a much stronger vein. And after that decided if I was going to do this as a living, I needed to go back and get my doctorate in ethics so that I at least could pretend I knew what I was talking about. And then I did that, and it really kind of just began expanding after about 2000 because of all of the incidents that we’ve seen, high profile cases that we’ve seen in the media about businesses making really bad decisions. So I’ve had a chance to do this in the classroom and the boardroom and the family room, and it’s been a really interesting conversation. And that’s what the book is about, starting a new conversation.
John Yeah, that’s interesting. And that’s a bad story with certainly prompted you to get into a great business and hopefully. And I know you have and been impacting tons of people and organizations through what you’re doing, but it’s unfortunate. That’s how it started the do you do you see this are ethical issues decision making? Is it? Is it always in? This may sound like a kind of a silly question, but is it always consciously unethical decisions that people or companies make? Are there ever times where it’s unintentional and they just don’t think through things and it becomes ethical? Or is that contradict the definition?
Chris Yeah, if you think about it may be one thing we’re going to try and avoid is thinking about an organization as being unethical because of course, organizations are made up of us people. So it’s the people inside the organizations that are making choices. And, well, no one ever walks into a president or CEO, never walks into the corporate boardroom and says all those in favor of making a lot of money and shuttling other businesses to the side to make the lose. Raise your hand. This is really about people who make choices and rationalize those choices and in the number of platforms. And I think that really is the essence of the book is trying to talk about or personalize ethics as a choice. Are there unwitting choices that we make or individuals and organizations can make? Yeah. But I think the larger cases that we see, the stuff that gets really covered in the media, social media or otherwise, the big mistakes the Volkswagens, the Enrons, the there notices. Given what’s going on now with Elizabeth Holmes, I think those have been witting conscious attempts to do something. Maybe they rationalize them as being proper or even ethical, but in fact, if you look at ethics from a different perspective than those people might have. It really isn’t about a choice that helps them, regardless of what happens to others. Ethics is about a choice that helps you and helps others. And so thinking about that larger circle is really the potent model in the book about trying to make ethical choices individually or as a leader in an organization.
John It makes sense. Have you seen in the time that you’ve been working on this? What’s the trend? I mean, are there overall? What has the trend been and are there certain industries where this is more prevalent than others? Or is it across the board? Pretty much the same.
Chris I would say it’s probably evenly across the board. What I’m very despite the fact that I spend my life in this arena, I’m very hopeful, very optimistic about what’s going on because I see more and more individuals and organizations talking about this subject. And maybe that’s partly what’s happening over the last four or five years. Well, it’s been a particularly toxic moral era. And so that’s got the conversation going. Or maybe it’s just a different understanding of, again, a way that we need to make better choices than we do because we’re seeing the result of the bad choices that we make. And so thinking about it from that perspective, I think that I’m very optimistic that organizations are now having these conversations both about ethics and social responsibility. So maybe the seed got planted in organizations from that social responsibility standpoint. What responsibility do they have for the local community, the larger community, the international community, the environment? I think that’s led them also to have conversations about the moral development or the ethics of business conduct inside their organizations. But I think it’s across the board. I don’t think there’s anyone industry over another that’s spending less time unless it was maybe government or health. I think government anyway, probably spends less time than they are to talking about these conversations and setting up systems where the conduct of people is more accountable.
John Yeah, no doubt. What about the situations where and I know I’ve talked to leaders that have been around other leaders or in organizations or cultures that just are unethical. Somewhere it’s just there’s a whole. The culture around it, others where they might be in a situation where they’re dealing with a leader that’s doing or about to do something unethical. What’s your message to that type of person? I mean, that can be uncomfortable. First of all, you’re not necessarily the person that’s making that decision or acting in that way, but you’re around it. You’re close to it. Maybe you’re part of it. How do you handle that situation as a leader?
Chris Yeah, maybe the first thing to say is, you know, one of the major differences between great leaders and mediocre or poor leaders is that great leaders want to find the truth. Mediocre leaders just want to be right. And so in going after the truth, you’re going to come across some of the things that you’re talking about and understanding of your impact on others around you, whether they’re in the organization or outside of the organization. And so when you’ve got leaders that are looking for the truth, of course, you think about that. That’s really the bottom line for ethics is truth and truth and trustworthiness. Then you’re probably an organization that is listening and you’ve got an opportunity to state something or bring up a point or ask questions about whether the direction things are going is right. Those are good organizations in the organizations where the leader just simply wants to be right.
Chris Very difficult sometimes to get the right information out to the right decision-makers to make the right choices. And sometimes it literally just comes down to moral courage, because if you think about it, you’re the only person that you see in the mirror in the morning shaving or making up your hair, and you have to decide who it is that you want to live with. And I’m not saying that that’s always the easiest choice to make because personal circumstances don’t always allow for us to make a quick choice, but it is something that’s going to not you over time. If you’re in that organization, which really isn’t worried about what the truth is and wants to march on a day of profit, there is some information. I don’t necessarily want to state it all now, but there is some information that talks about the profitability and the energy inside of companies that take on responsibility for the environment, for the community around them, and how this is part of their mission.
Chris The idea of being trustworthy and making sure that the consumers can always trust their words and their actions. And it’s highly profitable to be in an organization that’s like that. So even as an individual thinking about your future in the long term, getting yourself out of a situation where that sort of stuff isn’t important to the organization and finding one where it is and there are lots of different kinds of periodicals and social media and libraries, even that can get you information about the companies that make it part of their mission, to be honest. Getting yourself out of where you are and into something else is only going to lead to your health and your betterment as well.
John Mm-Hmm. What is what’s the? Let’s talk about transparency because I see a lot of leaders that feel like they are transparent. They feel like these are two different things, but they do overlap or intersect in some way. They feel like they’re authentic. Yet at the same point, they may not be or other people don’t perceive them to be. What does that mean to you? For a leader or an organization that’s transparent and or authentic, what does that really look like or mean?
Chris Yeah, in the book, I actually spend some time talking about this, both at the organizational level and at the individual level, and the idea that there is a difference between being truthful and being transparent and that sometimes actually being ethical isn’t about transparency, it’s about truthfulness. And I explain the difference and sort of a personal example. If you consider yourself going in with your partner and going to a place where they’re buying clothing and they step into a changing room with something and then they step out of that changing room and they look at you and say, You know, that terrible question? How do I look? Well, I think then sometimes you might go through this debate about, Well, do I just say exactly what I think you’ve never looked chubbier? That’s an awful color on you. It makes you look like you’re a foot shorter. Whatever it is, you want to be transparent with them and say exactly what it is. Or are there feelings here that are going to count in the answer that you give?
Chris And so we have a tendency to use coded language and say, Oh, that’s the reddest red you’ve ever worn or what an interesting thing to wear. I’m not sure that really fits with the occasions that we’re going to be. You know, you might want to be wearing that. We may want to think about some other things. And so you do have to think about at least at an individual level, the emotional components between truthfulness and transparency. And being transparent isn’t always the most ethical way to answer the question. Now, if we think about organizations, it’s slightly different. That is, we have to think about organizations being transparent in a way that we can walk through the door and see the things that we need to see and understand the things that we need to understand that there are no. This issue with Elizabeth Holmes and trial and her partner now, and I think the trial started today, that’s definitely about them being far from transparent and also far from honest and the things that they were saying.
Chris So you couldn’t walk through the doors of that organization and see the things that you needed to see financially or by technology and make the right kinds of choices. In fact, they purposely hid what was going on so that you didn’t go in and get the right information to make a choice about investing. So organizations do need to be transparent, but they need to do it within the parameters that allow them to maintain corporate secrets, corporate technologies, corporate plans for the future, that their competition might very well want to know about and try and do something about it before it’s online. And so you need to temper that transparency, whether it’s financial, technological, organizational, whatever it is with the idea that we need time in this organization to be able to develop something to bring it from Point A where we had an idea to point Z where it’s finally ready to come out. The organization does need time to do this. Boards need time to do this when they’re talking financially.
Chris So there needs to be a time lag so that we on the outside, who may not be things going on in the Orbit League, have what’s going on behind the curtain as we go. Well, that’s terrible. That’s a bad thing. Well, we haven’t finished yet. We’re not all the way there. So transparency in organizations has to be tempered with that amount of time. We can still be honest about it. That is, we can still talk from an organizational perspective on the fact that we need some time and that we’re thinking of different alternatives and that we’re working on these things, and that at a certain point, we’re going to come out with the information that you’re asking for. But you’ve got to give us time to be able to do that, and I’m not speaking so much financially. Financial records really have to be pretty transparent from day one to day 365 each year, but there is some tempering that needs to be done.
John Do you feel like in back almost in your example with your spouse or significant other coming in coming out, not looking their best? Do you feel like leaders oftentimes end up going down that road of not being honest when they have, or transparent when they have bad news, in particular, to deliver to somebody and they’re trying to temper the message or spin the message or whatnot? Is that where you’re seeing it a lot in your interactions with leaders and how can they handle that?
Chris Yeah, I would say that one of the trickiest things, and I’ll go back to my example where you’re with your partner and you don’t want to tell them exactly what you’re thinking. So you tell them what’s honest in your mind, but you’re not exactly transparent about it. You know, there are questions that you could ask about that situation that we can also ask about the organizational situation. One of the questions you could ask is, Well, why is this person asking you what it is that they have on? But is it? Is it your opinion that makes the entire difference between keeping it or not keeping it? Are they asking you because they have ulterior motives as well? They want to hear, yes, they like it. Anything they put on, they want to hear. Yes. And so that’s really what they’re expecting, and they don’t hear that.
Chris So suddenly it’s some kind of a flub. They’re actually conversations that ought to happen before that situation occurs, where you can test the waters, right? If you’re being so tested by the person walking out of the changing room and test the waters and say, OK, so if you walk out with something that I don’t like, what is it you’d like me to tell you? Or if you walk out with something and you ask me, How do I look? What are you looking for? You want to know that it looks good, looks good to me, that it’s going to look good to others, that it looks good to you. You know, you need to understand what the motive of the question really is. And if we take that over to the organizational side and we’re talking about this idea of transparency, we know there are all kinds of landmines because the people that are asking the questions about the organization and want to know something about it may very well be full of ulterior motives to the information that they’re trying to get.
Chris So we do have to spend some time sorting that out, and that’s why I say total transparency all the time isn’t going to work because the motives of the questions, in fact, aren’t transparent. We’re looking for something else in your answer, and you need to tell us that information. And let us do anything we want with it. Well, in an organization that’s developing new products and new technologies and new plans and new systems, or they’re being bought or being sold, some of these things need that time, and we need to make sure that whatever has reached the point of maturation needs to be there before some of that information gets out. And so I always say what you want to do inside an organization is keep very clear records for yourself of what it was you were d doing and b what it was you were saying to the outside world about what you were doing, so that if there’s any question about what happened along the way, you can bring those records out and say, Here’s what we were doing. Here’s what we. Told you here were the questions that you had. Here’s how we answered them. And then you’ve got a log that kind of begins to talk about what the motivations on both sides might be.
John Yeah, it makes sense. I see a lot of leaders that are sometimes and to your point, before I left, a set of mediocre leaders want to be right. Great leaders want to find the truth. I think leaders, especially the ones that are looking for, they’re looking to be supported in their own beliefs and they’re looking for the right answers. And they don’t really want to know necessarily the true story. They ask questions that are bit or basically creating a feeling of I can’t be totally open with this leader because there’s some negative consequence if I give bad news or the real story or the real scoop. And I see some of those leaders that are unintentionally creating that. And I think it’s important and I really like that because that sticks in my mind about mediocre leaders who want to be right. I think the leaders really need to understand. It’s not just asking for updates from their teams or report-ups about things that are going on in their organization, but really set the example that it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. I want the truth and the reality and the accurate answer, not just the answer that you think I want to have or I’m looking for. Is that right?
Chris Yeah. You know what? At the thirty-five thousand foot level, if you were wearing ethics lenses or business, conduct fewer resources to answer this question. It really has to do with the level of trustworthiness inside the organization, which is often really hinging on the agreement between someone’s words and someone’s deeds, their words, and their actions, right? That’s where we pick up what’s trustworthy. That’s where we understand someone’s trustworthiness. Is it? Have they done what it is that they said they’ve done? And I’m sure your listeners and maybe yourself, you’ve been in organizations where someone was saying one thing like, for instance, we’re open and honest here. We’ll take our questions. We’ll have these dialogs. I’ll be down every day in the lunchroom. That’s spoken. But in fact, as you see things play out, it doesn’t happen that way at all. That person is very scant.
Chris They’re not around very much. They’re certainly not having conversations with the groups in the organization or if they do, it’s more like what I call a reverse session, not a conversation. It’s one person imparting their information to you rather than asking questions of you and trying to find out the truth inside the organization. And I work with a lot of leaders that may not be aware that they do that. But having spent time or doing surveys in the company, especially among the senior leaders in the company, it’s pretty easy early on to understand that there’s some difference between a person’s words and a person’s actions and that if you start to look at it that way, it’s a little bit easier to begin to mend those things so that they are building trustworthiness. You know, if you think about this on an individual, I’ll ask at my individual level, I’ll ask at my seminars or my keynote sometimes. What is the most important human virtue? And quite often, most often, people will say love.
Chris And that’s a great answer, because of course, love does differentiate us from most of the other life on the planet. And so if you step back a second and think about it, what underscores what’s the foundation of that love, especially true love with somebody else? It’s trust, it’s truthfulness, it’s trustworthiness. How can you have a deep, loving relationship with anybody if you don’t trust or they don’t trust you in the relationship? So in fact, trust is what animates our virtues, and I would say I’d go on to say boldly it animates all of the virtues. That sense of trustworthiness or truthfulness from an individual actually is at the heart of all the virtues that we have, especially something like true love. And so that idea that we need to think about the level of our trustworthiness and our truthfulness, and again, thinking about the agreement of our words and actions is a great gauge that becomes a particularly important conversation to have either as an individual with your partner or inside of an organization where you’re really, in a sense, talking with the people around you to find out how much they do trust what it is that’s going on or do trust you too in the leadership role that you’ve got.
John I love it. Great, great words of wisdom. So, Chris, the noble edge, it’s out now. I know people can get it all over the place, right? Amazon. What are the best places, bookstores, or just Amazon? The best place?
Chris Amazon, Barnes, and Noble as we were just down at Powell’s Bookstore in Oregon? I don’t know. That’s a fabulous used bookstore. It’s five stories high, and it’s all these books we love to support the local community, bricks, and mortar, so you’re able to get it in any other brick and. Order stores that may be in your local area. You can also get it by writing us that novel Edge Consulting, we’ve got copies and signed copies if you want to get one of the books as well. So it’s available, it’s out there. We’ve gotten 15 awards for the book. Just got one two days ago, the Outstanding Creator Award for First in Moral Development and Ethics and second in nonfiction. So was a real, nice, nice verification that we may have written something here that might be worthwhile for people.
John Outstanding. Well, congrats on the awards. Congrats on the book. We’ll have all that in the show notes so listeners can click and get right to it. And if they want to engage directly with you or learn more about what you do, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Chris Yeah, same thing. If they just go to www.nobleedgeconsulting.com, that’s all one word. You can actually speak directly to me via email, and we’re usually pretty good at answering within 24 hours. I love to hear from the folks that are out there, either questions about ethics or if they’ve read the book, what their feelings are. If you do go to Amazon or Barnes Noble’s, please leave a review of it. We’ve gotten about item numbers for the 40 or so reviews now, and they’ve been absolutely marvelous. They’ve been great reviews, all of five stars, all but two or five stars, but we love the critiquing as well. If there are things that we can change or examples that we can provide to make things clearer, I’m up for that. It’s great.
John Well, I got my copy. I’m looking forward to reading it and I appreciate you joining the show, Chris. It’s been enlightening, informative, entertaining, so I hope you come back at some point down the road.
Chris Well, John, thank you so much. I look at it as a real privilege if I got invited back.
John So you got it good. While we’ve been here with Chris Gilbert, international consultant, and keynote speaker on ethics and organizational development, author of The Noble Edge. We’ll have all that info in the show notes, and I appreciate you joining today on this episode of Tomorrow’s Leader.
John As always, appreciate it when you share like, subscribe and go down below, give those five-star reviews and look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks, everybody.
John Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader for suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching you can reach me at John@johnlaurito.com.