Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Happy President’s Day!

Happy President’s Day from Compliance Culture!

In honor of the holiday, consider the below tips for ethical decision-making from a perhaps unexpected source – Former President George W. Bush.

At the time that President Bush made the above statements to the press, he was ridiculed for referring to himself as “The Decider.”  The merit of the decision he was making – to support then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2006 amid rising controversy and opposition to Rumsfeld’s critically-unpopular handling of military strategy and planning in Iraq – can and will be debated in other venues.  Rumsfeld ultimately did resign, though Bush remained his stalwart public supporter until the very end.

History will pass its judgment about how Bush’s decision continues to age.  But, it’s worthwhile to recognize the sentiment implied when he declared himself The Decider.  The traits expressed by Bush in his steadfast commitment to what he saw as a measured, credible choice are essential for ethical decision-making:  accountability, ownership, and diligence.  He does his best to get informed and not just from within his own echo chamber, but in full contemplation of all sources, opinions, interests, and possible outcomes, before formulating his own perspective and making a choice.

As The Decider, he did the work.  He stands behind it, even if it isn’t perfect, even if it isn’t popular, even if it isn’t successful, because he made the best choice he felt he had available to him at that time after ensuring he was aware of all the considerations and complications.

While we all admire the intention to make the perfect decision – ethical, easy, and indelibly correct – these three conditions so rarely come together at a time to take action.  We don’t always have good or simple choices before us.  Often someone will be upset or hurt by the decision or will be critical of or disagree with the choice – no matter what decision is made.  However, starting at a place where the choice is good enough, or the best available, and standing up for that tough decision has to come from a place of responsibility, preparation, and execution.  If we can do this thoughtfully and boldly, we can model the behavior we wish to encourage in others, in our organizations and in our lives.

There’s four steps to take to Be The Decider:

  • Take personal accountability
  • Seek all information
    • Take a “chop wood and carry” water approach – distill the task of due diligence down to the most fundamental queries and then cast a wide, thorough net
    • In Bush’s words, “Hear the voices, read the front page, know the speculation” – and then with oversight of this all, approach the decision
    • Consider all the outcomes and all the consequences
  • Be ambitiously ethical
  • Follow the Golden Rule – choose by doing unto others as you’d have done unto you

For more on this topic, check out this post or this post on ethical dilemmas, this post on principles of ethical decision-making, and this post on how to make hard choices that are also ethical ones.


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