Episode 21: Ethics in Leadership with Amanda Jo Erven, CPA, CIA, CFE

On today’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast, Jenn speaks with ethics expert Amanda Jo Erven, who goes by Jo. Amanda is the president and founder of Audit. Consulting. Education. LLC. During today’s episode, we discuss her newest book, Our Choices on the Road to Life. This episode is a favorite because the importance of showing up as ethical leaders is a topic not often discussed. Read the Full Transcript Below:

Ethics and Our Choices on the Road of Life

Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone, it’s Jenn DeWall, and I am so excited to welcome Amanda Jo Erven to The Leadership Habit Podcast. Jo and I will be talking about ethics and leadership, and we’re also going to be discussing her newest book, Our Choices on the Road of Life. Jo, thank you so much for being with us today.

Amanda Jo Erven: Thank you, Jenn. I’m so excited to be here.

Jenn DeWall: Jo, for those of our listeners that may not be aware of you, can you just go ahead and tell us what you do?

Amanda Jo Erven: Absolutely. So let me tell you how I actually start every ethics presentation that I give.

Jenn DeWall: I hope it’s engaging. People are pretty scared of that.

Amanda Jo Erven: That’s right. The topic, they’re already turned off, so you’ve got to turn them on real quick. And here’s how I do it. I don’t do it. I talked about myself, but I don’t do it in the typical speaker way. I actually go way back in time, and I tell the audience about myself when I was two years old, three years old, even show a picture of my kindergarten graduation.

Jenn DeWall: Oh!

Amanda Jo Erven: I know. Right? And so you ask why I’m sure you’re thinking why? Because this is really where ethics started for me. It started at a super young age. So you see, I was this child that always liked to point out when other people were doing something wrong.

Jenn DeWall: Yeah, I would have been on your bad list.

The Short Whistleblower

Amanda Jo Erven: You know, the ones that lie or cheat or maybe even steal, hopefully not. You know, from tattling on my older siblings to telling the teacher when someone’s eyes weren’t on their own paper. That was me. I was the tattletale. But now I like it when people say I was just a really short whistleblower, that’s kind of my tagline. So that’s how I start. That’s how I start my presentation.

Jenn DeWall: So perfect. The short whistleblower.

Amanda Jo Erven: Yes, the short whistleblower, so now you can see why I became an ethics instructor. Right?

Jenn DeWall: Absolutely. And we need ethics. We know from even, you know if you turn on and watch the news or go to your computer and read the news, there are tons of cases where when ethics aren’t honored; companies go under, people lose jobs. There are so many consequences that can happen when we don’t have ethical leaders.

Amanda Jo Erven: That’s right. Yeah, absolutely.

How Ethics Fit Into Leadership

Jenn DeWall: And I want to jump into talking a little bit about your book because you had talked about character choices. So When you think about ethics, how do you narrow your behavior as a leader to be more ethical?

Amanda Jo Erven: Yep, that’s a great question. And I think like we mentioned at the beginning; it can be kind of this topic that nobody wants to talk about. So I approach it in three different character choices. So when you look at the news like you said, you see a lot of what I call, and I actually took this term from an author I’ll tell you about in just a second. The “Big Me.” So the Big Me, David Brooks wrote a great book called The Road to Character. And he used this term, the Big Me and it really resonated with me because while he takes his book to depict kind of historical figures and talks about how it used to be, the little me over the big me, in other words, people would put society first in front of their own needs.

Amanda Jo Erven: Today when you open the headlines, right, read the news anywhere, it’s all about people really putting themselves above everything else. Whether that is society in general, a team community, even sometimes your organization. But that’s to me where a lot of this is starting, and that is obviously the worst of the character choices of the three. So that is the first one you want to hear the second one. So the second one is where I’d say 99% of us live, and that is the Ethical Rationalizer. So you’ve probably heard the term rationalizer or maybe even the term blind spot. And that’s what I say is kind of the middle ground. That is where most of us live. We rationalize some of our behavior. We have these great intentions, but we tend to act contrary to them, and we don’t even know we’re doing it sometimes.

Jenn DeWall: Does it even count when I’m speeding on the highway?

Amanda Jo Erven: Ooh, now here. So.

Jenn DeWall: I guess I rationalize that, right?

Amanda Jo Erven: You’re in a hurry. Right? Same thing. I always use the I do quick little ethics quizzes in my presentations because I like to get people just thinking of the things that might seem inconsequential. So it’s somebody who forgets to ring something up, and you get all the way to your car. And I ask people, what do you do? Do you go back in, or do you rationalize? You don’t have enough time, you’ve got an important meeting. Does it depend on whether that item that they forgot was a $2 item or a $200 item? Right. These are the things we all think about in these decisions, these choices, hence the name of the book that we make every day. So that is, that’s the middle bucket.

Jenn DeWall: I love that. Ethics is all about choices, and I feel like I was ethical last night. I had an appointment, and she had initially charged me just for that appointment, but I was naughty, and I canceled within her 24-hour window, and I told her I would pay it our next appointment, and then she forgot, and I had to remind her. So I’m like, I don’t want that in my conscience that I did not pay her for something that I missed because I canceled outside of the window. Right. And so I feel like I was on the middle ground of ethics.

Amanda Jo Erven: You were! I watch, I have an eight-year-old son, and we actually watch a show called Brain Games, and there is an entire episode on watching people. They do kind of hidden cameras. And how they behave. If the cashier gives them too much change, are they honest? Do they give it back? Does it depend on whether the person behind the counter is nice to you or not nice to you? And it’s really, really interesting and it’s a great show for kids, but it’s a great episode that shows how do we, how do we always, are we always honest? Right? Even in those little situations.

Jenn DeWall: You brought up a good point, it is easy sometimes to rationalize that person maybe wasn’t so kind, or they were really rude. So you don’t even think about it. You’re just, you know, ready to say, well, you were rude to me. So that in some way, you’re entitled to the benefit that you gave, even though it’s not ethical.

Amanda Jo Erven: Exactly. That’s the rationalization that a lot of us do. So.

Jenn DeWall: Now, what is the third character choice?

The Everyday Ethicist

Amanda Jo Erven: So the third character choice is what I have trademarked as the Everyday Ethicist, which can be a mouthful. And I’m actually writing the book as we speak and literally living and breathing and researching every day for this book. But essentially, the Everyday Ethicist has a mantra, like silence is not golden or speak the truth, even if your voice shakes or never compromising their integrity at any cost, even if it’s $2. Right. so one of my keynote ethics presentations is called “Say Something, Even If,” and that is really what it means to be an everyday ethicist.

Jenn DeWall: So it can be that it can be a really scary place. Let’s say something even if, and I think it’s hard if you don’t have a culture that where you feel trust and support it, it can be really, really hard to maybe if you’re maybe an unknown person or don’t have a lot of power, it can be really hard to say something even if.

Amanda Jo Erven: Absolutely. And that’s why I loved it when you invited me to talk about this from an ethics and leadership standpoint and how can we truly be an ethical leader. And I think the only way one can truly be an ethical leader is if you say something, even if you have to have that quality in your back pocket.

The Road to the Chairman’s Circle

Jenn DeWall: So, Oh my gosh, I’m excited to just learn. I feel like I even have more insights is such a challenging thing to be right or wrong and to be so exposed. But we’ll, I know that we’re going to get more into that. I wanted to talk about another piece from your book, which was the road to the Chairman Circle, which is, you know, taking our ethics, like how can we continue to find success while being ethical leaders? You talked about five different milestones that we can hit on our road to the Chairman Circle, which is where we all want to be. That’s like the optimal level of success for ourselves.

Milestone 1: Becoming Self-Aware

Amanda Jo Erven: Absolutely. So yes, the Chairman’s Award or Chairman’s Circle, however, you want to call it. Here’s how I do this in my live presentations. I actually have everyone get. I put a bunch of blank papers in the middle of the table, and I have everyone grab one, and I say, want you to write down every quality of the person you most admire in your life.

Amanda Jo Erven: You know, that can be from the highest integrity to the, they’re always on time to, you know, they just earned everyone’s respect. Whatever it is, those qualities, you know, and I challenge them to write down 10 or 15 things, then I actually have them rate themselves on each one of those qualities that they wrote down. And, and honestly, that’s the first step. That’s the first milestone. That’s how we get to be very self-aware of where we are on our own road to the Chairman’s award. So that is milestone number one. Becoming self-aware, however, you can do that some other ways that I think are great ways to do that. You had a great video on feedback, how you give it, how you receive it. I loved watching that because feedback is one way that we can all become more self-aware. And of course, it’s great if it comes from our trusted advisors or even our closest friends or family. However, you can get that feedback. But that’s another great technique or tool that you can use to really become self-aware of yourself.

Jenn DeWall: I have to assume that there are some people that may not be aware that their behavior is blurred on the ethical lines spectrum. And so that feedback is so valuable to help you really see clearly where you need to pivot to ensure that you’re more ethical.

Amanda Jo Erven: Absolutely. Before you see whatever you’re doing on the front page of the paper, right? You want to ask those around you to be honest with you and say, you know, what do you think about this that I’m about to decide or do or actions. So that’s why I always tell everybody, think about what you’re doing. If it would be on the front page of the paper, would you act differently? Right? That’s the epitome of being self-aware.

Jenn DeWall: If you were recording me, driving down the highway on my way to work. I may not want that to be on the front page. I wouldn’t say I’m – I just speed. Okay?

Amanda Jo Erven: The truth is coming out!

Jenn DeWall: Like I don’t, I wouldn’t say I But I definitely am not ethical. I mean, and I go in and out of traffic, and I try to get there as fast as I can because traffic is terrible.

Amanda Jo Erven: I know. It is everywhere. I’m going to make Jenn take my six-question ethics quiz after this because actually, it’s not whether you speed, it’s what you do when you get caught.

Jenn DeWall: We should do the six questions on the podcast!

Amanda Jo Erven: We could do that. We can do that. They’re very simple. We definitely, I’d love to do that. We’ll save that if we have time at the end.

Milestone 2: Finding Your Passion

Jenn DeWall: Let’s talk about your second milestone, which is finding your passion.

Amanda Jo Erven: So honestly, I think you cannot be a leader in anything you do if you don’t love what you do. So the bottom line on earning the Chairman’s Award is you’re never going to get there if you’re not in a position or a job that you absolutely love. So that’s what I mean by finding your passion. Making sure that you’re working towards those longer-term goals, not just the short fixes bandaids here and there. You’ve got to be making sure you’ve got long-term stretch goals, and you’re passionate about everything you do. Otherwise, you’re just never going to get there. The person that you wrote down that you admired more than anyone in the world they were, I guarantee they were passionate about what they do. So that’s definitely something you need as a milestone there.

Jenn DeWall: Well, I’ve always heard the expression energy goes, where passion flows. And it is true. Like for me, it’s very true to me what I am excited about something. I’m a pretty enthusiastic person. That’s right at a normal level. But when I’m very excited it’s, there’s no telling like how much I’ll work for that, how much I want it, how much more fulfilled I feel when I accomplish it.

Amanda Jo Erven: And you don’t realize how much you’re influencing others. Your energy is contagious, right? Your passion can be contagious. And that is that’s, that’s super important as well to earn an award like this, right? Or, or being in the Chairman Circle, is that you’re influencing the others around you positively as well. Perfect. Yeah.

Milestone 3: Fine-tuning Your Grit

Jenn DeWall: So milestone number one being self-aware. Milestone number two is to find your passion. What is milestone number three?

Amanda Jo Erven: Milestone number three is fine-tuning your grit. So I know everybody loves the word grit, right? Angela Duckworth wrote, but yeah, I just posted another article yet another article about her and her study of grit, right? She studies West point graduates, her book is excellent, but she, she takes grit and puts it into two categories, passion, and perseverance. So to me, this piece of fine-tuning your grit is really the perseverance part. It is doing your passion. Step two, milestone two. And no matter the odds, no matter the obstacles, no matter the challenges that we face. We know we all face that. That’s a fact of life. But it’s how we do that, how we overcome those challenges. You’ll notice that person you wrote down on your list from step one as well. I guarantee they faced a lot of challenges, and they’ve persevered through it. So this is a matter of you’ve got to figure out the best way to do that as well.

Jenn DeWall: And sometimes maybe even going back to that list, ask them if you really think they possibly did not have to overcome adversity anyway, ask them, you know, ask them what their story is. Because too often we compare ourselves and assume that someone’s road is easier than ours or that they’re getting it right and we’re getting it wrong, and then it can just take away all of our energy to be able to move forward. I love grit because in that book too, if I recall it correctly, she talks about just that difference that like you could be more highly talented, highly educated, more X, Y, and Z. But if you don’t have grit, you will not do more or achieve more than the individual that may be less talented, have fewer resources, but has that grit.

Amanda Jo Erven: Exactly. So she said she’s, she says talent is not alone, is not enough. Skill alone is not enough. Right. You need more than that. You need a culmination of things. And, and that is what she coins as grit or terms as grit, which I loved.

Jenn DeWall: You’re always reminded, even in the entrepreneurial space too. I saw this shirt when I was at the dog park, and it stuck with me so much. And he was wearing a shirt that said, I eat nos for breakfast. Right. Like that is one of the best shirts. And that’s a Testament to grit. It’s, yeah, there’s going to be a lot of nos. There’s going to be a lot of mistakes. There’s going to be a lot of failures. It doesn’t mean you’re meant to give up, and it just means you have to figure out how you can pick yourself back up and move forward.

Amanda Jo Erven: That’s right. I know. I write in the book, and there’s a Thomas Edison piece where he found 6,000 ways to fail. When they ask how, you know, why did you keep going? Well, I didn’t, you know, I know. I believe that’s what it was. 6,000 ways. Yeah.

Jenn DeWall: There are multiple ways to fail. You can keep trying.

Amanda Jo Erven: He’s succeeded at that. Right? That’s the way you just; it’s your mindset. It’s how you look at something, right? I didn’t fail 6,000 times. I actually found 6,000 ways to fail. So it’s, it’s just your mindset and how you look at it.

Jenn DeWall: So important because that’s the one thing that we can always control. Yeah.

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Milestone 4: Become a Problem Solver

Jenn DeWall: Let’s go into milestone number four, becoming a problem solver.

Amanda Jo Erven: So I like to say becoming a problem solver, not just a complainer. So it’s becoming that person that just doesn’t point out when something’s wrong, or something’s going wrong, you actually do something about it, right? You are not just part of the problem. You become part of the solution. So that’s what I mean by being a problem solver. You go above and beyond at your organization, within your position. You just figure out what, what went wrong, the root cause, however, you want to look at it. But you’re constantly just also looking for ways to improve upon things, right? Not just, you know, kind of settle in the what-ifs or the negative of things. This is the let’s just solve the problem and move on, move forward from it.

Jenn DeWall: Take a little ownership. Instead of saying not my responsibility. I don’t have to look at that. Oh, that must really suck that you- my teammate over there- are going through that, sorry. How can you be more collaborative? How can you be more open? How can you take accountability and really use that to help someone else or solve that problem and come up with a viable solution?

Amanda Jo Erven: And that’s right. Engage in that implementation of a solution. However, you can do that.

Milestone 5: Earning Respect

Jenn DeWall: Perfect. Now the last milestone is focusing on the factors for earning respect. Yes. What does that mean? How do you earn respect for the people that really are struggling to do that?

Amanda Jo Erven: Well, number one, I think it started with step four. You solve big problems, right? You focus, I always say major on the majors, so you can’t, you know, constantly get hung up on the little things, whether that’s in life, personally or professionally. You’ve got to focus on the big things, the big rocks, however you want to look at it and identify those root causes of those problems that will result in itself, especially within your organization, will earn you more and more respect.

Amanda Jo Erven: My second real big thing for knowing you’ve actually earned respect is when people seek you out for advice. So that’s actually a great test and a great Testament to say, I really think I’ve, I’ve gotten there, I people I am now mentoring others more than I am being mentored, even though I think both roles are equally as important, but, but really how can you focus on helping others so much that then they come to you and they’re, they’re seeking you out for advice. So that’s one of my big factors for earning respect. And the last one really is delivering your function. And of course, ethically, falls into play here. But being obsessed with delivering it the best you can. So this is where everything matters. Whether it is an email presentation that you write, whether it is an actual presentation, a PowerPoint presentation that you do when you stand up, and speak at a meeting, whether a small meeting or a big meeting, right?

Amanda Jo Erven: Everything matters. Attractiveness counts in every profession. And I think I just have to tell him where we go for gold. Everything you do, even if it’s a two-sentence email. So really just delivering your function, whatever that function might be. Those are really my factors for earning respect.

Jenn DeWall: Yeah. Be intentional with what you’re putting out there and the perception that you’re creating because perception is reality, right? That’s executive presence right there. If you want to be the executive, you want to hit Chairman Circle, and you have to act like that in your communication, in your appearance, in your interactions, and your relationships.

Do the Right Thing When No One is Watching

Amanda Jo Erven: Yeah. And it goes back to you know they have that one famous quote, integrity is, is doing the right thing when no one’s watching. Right. So it’s about doing the right thing or carrying yourself well, no matter who’s watching because you never know who’s watching. And I think that is from an ethics standpoint or just a Chairman standpoint, and it is just really making those good decisions no matter who’s around.

Jenn DeWall: Right. That’s, I mean, you have a clear conscience. Yes. I remember that. Like we own that, and you know, it doesn’t feel good when you make a mistake and, or you do something that may not have been, because I know that there is on this, there’s gotta be a spectrum for ethical behavior, right? Where there’s this small piece where okay they, you know, I might’ve taken a dollar or not even that bad. It’s, I feel bad when there’s money involved, and there are definitely things where you’re like,

Amanda Jo Erven: Maybe the office supplies when it comes up a lot.

Jenn DeWall: Office supplies, right. Or like, oh, they forgot to charge me for like this, but, and it was an extra that was supposed to be 50 cents or a dollar or whatever it is. They seem nominal, but really it’s all about ethics. Like you’re still violating ethics in some way.

Ethics Simplified – It Really is Black and White

Amanda Jo Erven: Yes. Yeah. And my very first ethics presentation I called Ethics Simplified, and I actually show a start that presentation, and I still do it every once in a while with a picture of my son drew in the first grade. They were all asked to draw doing the right thing. And it is amazing when you see a lot of six-year-olds what they think that means. And I like to break down ethics back to it, just doing right or wrong. It is a little more black and white than it’s become in today’s society. Not a little more. It is black and white, more black and white than it is when you open the paper, and you read all of these unethical things happening in the workforce tend to start small. Right? And that’s what we read about, and that’s what kind of, you rationalize the little things, and it can get out of hand into the big things. So the point is, let’s eliminate even the small stuff.

Jenn DeWall: Absolutely. And also, be the role model for the behavior that you want others to replicate, right? If you’re stealing office supplies or you go on that, you know, lunch or dinner on the company and you order a million things actually, is that unethical? If you’re ordering an excessively priced meal that you wouldn’t typically order because a company’s paying for, is that ethical or is not? Is that even part of the ethical spectrum?

Amanda Jo Erven: Oh, there’s, there could be a lot to the ethical spectrum. We could probably talk for hours on this.

Ethics on the Road to Leadership

Jenn DeWall: I know there’s just so much. Well, in addition, in your book, you talk about the mile markers on the road to leadership, and we’re going to talk about maybe four or five of these depending on how much time we have, but one of them was that a genuine leader is a model for ethical behavior and inspires others to do likewise. I know we just touched on that, but truly it’s about being that role model.

Amanda Jo Erven: It is about being, and it’s about walking the talk really. No matter who you are, what position you are. I always like to say everyone’s a leader, right? We hear that all the time. If you interact with others, you are a leader, right? You have the ability to lead others. So it is truly just knowing that one little white lie can send a signal. That hypocrisy is okay. It opens those floodgates for, you know, little things to become big things. So, it’s just really watching at your every move and being very like you said, deliberate about your actions. So that’s, that’s what modeling the behavior is to me.

Jenn DeWall: I think that’s so important for the people that are maybe sitting in higher-level roles within their organizations who, whether it’s a director or a vice president, manager, I mean C-suite of course, the higher up that hierarchy you go; the more your words truly matter your words and behaviors. You’re the one that has the power. You’re the one that’s setting the example. So if you’re unethical or you make a, you know, Oh, that’s not that big of a deal, you can just bypass that. Well, that’s the behavior that you’re infusing into your cultural fabric, right?

Amanda Jo Erven: Yeah. There is an excellent book. I’ve read a different ethics book, probably every day, The Power of Ethical Management. And it’s coauthored by Kenneth Blanchard, who wrote the One Minute Manager and Norman Vincent Peale. I think it’s how you say his last name. They go into a story. I think it’s a pretty famous story actually, of a young man and all of the things the adults in his life do his whole life from when he’s little up through college. And it’s a really insightful- little tiny things along the way. You know you don’t, your parents don’t tell when something on the bill doesn’t get charged and just his kind of observations of life.

Amanda Jo Erven: And then something happens to him big in school, and he’s caught cheating, and he gets kicked out, and his parents come back and say, we cannot believe this. You’ve disgraced us. We’ve never taught you to be this way. But the entire story is the things he learned from his parents and his grandparents and his aunts and an uncle along the way. And it’s like, that is what we’re teaching, and we have to be very careful, especially with our children on what we’re showing them. We don’t even think we’re doing it. But if you’re interested, it’s an excellent little story.

Jenn DeWall: No, it sounds really neat. And I think that’s true. I think, you know, I’m not a parent, but I know that that’s the most difficult thing for a lot of my friends is knowing what they are being, you know, what’s being tallied in terms of their development. What did you, it’s hard to know until you kind of see that when they play it out as an example to know what they’re picking up on. Absolutely. But being sensitive and intentional about it yourself will help you make better parenting choices to help your child be more ethical as they grow older.

Amanda Jo Erven: Yes, definitely. It definitely, it was when I read it, it hit home with me for sure. So

Never Be a Lapdog

Jenn DeWall: Now another one of the mile markers that you talk about is a genuine leader is never a lapdog. What does lapdog mean?

Amanda Jo Erven: Okay. So this one I even in my presentations I say no, this could be offensive to some people that term. So I actually put a picture up of my little tiny Pomeranian lapdog just to kind of ease the crowd a little bit and on this one. But what it means is when you open the newspaper, and you look at some of these scandals that have happened in organizations, I always say there is someone else that knew, right? Someone else knew what was happening. What I mean by don’t be a laptop is speak up. You know, don’t be the person that says, yes ma’am, yes sir. Or I knew it was wrong, but my boss told me to do it. That is to be the classic business rationalization that occurs. And that’s when we become this lapdog to others that are unethical. Perhaps at our organization, so it’s really just bottom line is speak up that that’s the big let’s say statement behind not being a lapdog.

Jenn DeWall: Yeah, absolutely. It’s hard. And I’m going to say this from personal experience. I once had a boss that asked me to do something that was highly unethical, and it could have actually resulted in a lawsuit if anyone caught on. And when I went to the legal team to verify after he had told me that I was not able to just keep going with it, I went around him and asked our legal team, and then I was reprimanded for asking your legal team. And so it’s so interesting for how that works out. I mean, I didn’t end up doing what he had asked me to do, but it was very interesting because that also started to change the dynamic of how he saw me. So it is really, really, it’s a lonely place. So you’re going to start to call out ethical behavior or unethical behavior. It can be really, really challenging. I mean, I am here, I’m fine. I still am so proud of my choices, but it definitely wasn’t an easy go after I had done that.

Amanda Jo Erven: Yeah. And I think the lapdog role even if you think back to something like Enron and the CFO, and Andy Fastow could be considered someone that was in a lapdog role, he still rationalizes that he really never broke the law. The lawyers said you know, never said anything was wrong. Like those classic rationalizations. So, it happens so much more. Your example, I get examples, probably two or three of them, two or three people come up to me after every ethics presentation and want to tell me something that’s happened that they’ve been through in their careers. So we’ve all been put in that position at some point Or another.

Jenn DeWall: So it creates instant disengagement. Absolutely. Because how do you want to support any organization or boss that I would say tolerates that and accepts it and it’s, yeah, that’s a, it’s, you know, it’s really, really hard to stay engaged when you watch that type of behavior because it does lead you to wonder what else is happening. If this is one of them, like what else is happening that I’m not even privy to, and maybe it’s time to find a better place for me. That’s a great thing. I think that if you’re starting to see where your values are being crossed, or you’re asked to do them, you know, like find a new opportunity, do not stay in that environment because you could risk-depending on how big that scandal is- being pulled down with it, just by knowing that it’s there being that lapdog and not doing anything about it.

Amanda Jo Erven: Yeah. I always ask in a lot of my training if their boss is in the room with them, and the reason I asked that is that I tell them I’m going to challenge them to make sure their personal values match their organization values. And if not, it might be time to leave. And even challenge, do your personal values match those of your boss? Because it’s very important to make sure that you’re on the right fit with the right leaders. Otherwise, you can’t lead ethically as well. So.

Love Your Whistleblowers

Jenn DeWall: Absolutely, if they’re your roadblock, not going to work, it’s just not gonna work. So we just touched on this, but genuine leaders LOVE their whistleblowers.

Amanda Jo Erven: Yes! Then I get to put my picture up as a child again on the screen. This one, to me, starts with not even having what everybody calls an open door policy. I always tell everyone to have no door policy. You listen to anything and everything that comes your way. That, to me, is loving your whistleblowers and whistleblowers is an extreme word. But it can be people just admitting a mistake. It’s having that leadership of being so transparent and open and vulnerable, making sure everybody around you can walk in the door and tell you when something’s wrong. So that is truly what I mean by love your whistleblowers, that no door policy,

Jenn DeWall: How do you get the whistleblower to love themselves? That’s a scary place. Like what advice would you have for a whistleblower that, or someone that’s contemplating maybe saying something right now, what would you advise them to do?

Amanda Jo Erven: You know, I think in an organization where they genuinely have leaders that love their whistleblowers, it’s not as hard, right? Because you do feel like it is an environment where you can come forward, and there won’t be any backlash. Now, I think that is very rare. And in today’s world, unfortunately, I’d say I talked to a lot of groups, specifically women’s groups, but it applies to everyone about being what I call pro-self. And that is proactive and selfish. And to me, that’s what whistleblowers kind of have to rely on. They have to know, Hey, I’m getting in front of this. I’m not going to react to it later. I’m going to be proactive, which is the right thing to do in a lot of facets of life. And be selfish because I try to turn negative, bring the negative out of the word selfish.

Amanda Jo Erven: It is okay to put yourself first. It is absolutely okay to put your personal values first. And the more you remind yourself how important your own personal values are; I think the more you will love yourself for doing this and be proud of yourself for doing this. But this is why I love teaching about ethics because I have so many people tell me I needed this check. I needed to bring this back to the forefront because we all think we’re ethical and we have integrity. But if we don’t remember and remind ourselves every day, I have an everyday ethicist contract that I hand out so you can post it on your cube. Right. we need to be reminded still of these things, and the more you have belief in this and belief in yourself, the more willing you’ll be to come forward. I think so.

Jenn DeWall: Right. And starting to just challenge yourself. Yes. To be an everyday ethicist. I’m sure in the beginning it could probably be a challenge. It might start with those office supplies that you have to go out and buy your own.

Amanda Jo Erven: Just go buy that ream of paper at Walmart.

Jenn DeWall: Go get your Bic pens at target. You’re going to be good to go. I’m sure that can be a challenge, but it is great, can they access that on your website? Where do they get the everyday ethicist contract because I think everyone should probably have that hanging in there.

Amanda Jo Erven: It is not on my website. If anybody listens to this and wants it, just email me. I know you’ll get my email information after the webcast. So personal email to me, and I’ll make sure you get it.

Jenn DeWall: Because I think we all need a reminder. Maybe I should put it in my car.

Amanda Jo Erven: Maybe I should add something about speeding on there.

Jenn DeWall: I love that that’s how that equates to me is like what are the other- I’m trying to think about the things that maybe I do that are not as ethical. Because I probably don’t notice that they’re, cause they’re not so big and in your face, maybe ones that I’ve seen with consequences. So I may not think they’re that bad or I do that rationalizing where I’m like, this isn’t that bad. Because I know that there are things that I do, and I just can’t readily think of one beyond speeding.

Amanda Jo Erven: I mean people in my classes, I have some very healthy debates in my ethics classes because there are so many people out there that think ethics is not black and white, that there’s a lot of gray areas. And I think where that comes into play is how serious they think it is. Right? If no one’s lives are at stake, you know how big of a deal is it really, and I think that’s the term that a lot of people think of when they think of ethics. Like it’s not that bad. Yeah. It’s like the opposite applies. They’re not going to miss this stack of post-its. It’s totally fine.

Amanda Jo Erven: Right. It starts there.

Ethical Leaders and The Little White Lie

Jenn DeWall: Another mile marker that you talked about was about ethical leaders. Is that a genuine leader who doesn’t overcommit or exaggerate? Yes. So one of my favorite quotes is it’s much better than the truth beats what you say than if what you say fall short of the truth. So that’s kind of a mouthful, but really it’s just about the fact-driven, be honest. And don’t try to make either yourself or the numbers ever look better than they are. This is what gets people in trouble. This is where you see that culture. It’s that over-exaggeration of you know, inflating revenue, those kinds of things that you see businesses get in trouble for. And it’s the little white lies that start, especially when you’re talking leadership, they get leaders into trouble.

Jenn DeWall: Can you give me an example of a little white lie someone might tell?

Amanda Jo Erven: One that I’ve seen personally at an organization and actually just watched a news journalist report on a CEO in Silicon Valley that lied on their resume, right? Lied on their resume, lied on LinkedIn. You know, there are some examples of leaders that start out at their organization with little white lies, and they might think that it’s not that big of a deal. And it, you know, I think a lot of the justification there is that if it just gets me in the door and then I can do good things while I’m there. Right. I think there’s a lot of embellishments going on in resumes and I’ve seen it in really top leadership.

Jenn DeWall: You actually, I have seen it a lot on LinkedIn, and that’s so strange to me. Why people?

Amanda Jo Erven: Because you think it’s provable, right? It’s like, yeah, actually.

Some Examples of Unethical Leadership

Amanda Jo Erven: So I’ll touch on the one I actually started showing a short clip of Shannon Spake was the CEO of Clio, the organization. She stepped down in August, so this is very fresh a couple of months ago. They talk about her top hundred woman women award in from the Grace Hopper Foundation and Forbes uncovered, there is no such thing as the Grace Hopper foundation, and the only place this award showed up was in her LinkedIn profile. And so it’s, it’s a really interesting video that they released just from actually wanting to interview her and her company as one of the top new startup companies. So it went in to be a positive interview and turned out to uncover this complete embellishment by the CEO who’s then stepped down. So those are little things, right? I think it all started because she lied about her age at the beginning. So little things matter. Right. And so anyway, that, that’s my, that would be my example, and I think it’s happening a lot more out there.

Jenn DeWall: Well, especially as people feel that you know, they want those, I’m sure they see it a lot in tech. You want those popular attractive positions, and you know that there’s top talent going for them. So you want to do whatever it takes to stand up in the crowd. And I see it on LinkedIn with people wanting to embellish their LinkedIn, or they modify kind of the history of their role, and they make it look like it’s bigger than what it is or it’s different than what it is. And you know, what’s the protocol? Because I feel like, I don’t think I would call someone out for that. Yeah. So I think there are other things I naturally would, but like I wouldn’t say, you know what Susan or whoever that is, I challenge those facts on your LinkedIn profile. Do you call out that ethical behavior?

Amanda Jo Erven: I talk a lot, and I’m an auditor by nature, and everyone thinks auditor is a bad thing. But I truly, I try to teach internal auditors within a company to really do add more value than they currently do. And we actually talk about auditing culture at an organization. And it’s one of my favorite things to talk about. And one of the things I provide in my total quality auditing workbook is actually a checklist for personnel selection. And some of the questions that you can start asking in interviews. And really to me, it is putting aside that resume and really, you know, digging deeper into some ethical or integrity questions, behavioral, how would you respond in these, in these situations. But you know, I think too much we focus on those things, on those resumes and we’re just asking about those things. Well, what if those things are fabricated, you know, on the, on that resume? So to me, it is all about just using some really good gut judgment when you’re starting to interview people because that’s really the goal. It’s critical.

Jenn DeWall: I mean, how do you, how would you even think to doctor your resume? I’m like, how would I doctor mine? I mean, I guess I would, I love my University, I love it so much. What if I change that and say I went to Harvard like I just can’t imagine doing that.

Amanda Jo Erven: One of the examples, and this will hit home with you as a speaker as well. The CEO that I just mentioned, she actually put on hers that she was a UN expert on her LinkedIn. Well, she had spoken at a workshop at a UN conference twice, and they said, you know, not really does that constitute you as a, you know, UN expert. Right? And so it’s, it is just taking those little things and saying it’s more than what it is.

Jenn DeWall: I’ll just say this, but they will find out. I mean, it’s a digital world, so if you’re willing to put it out there, digital public-facing, expect that they’re going to be people that notice that, challenge it, that have questions that could uncover it.

Amanda Jo Erven: To your point. I bet it starts happening more and more. I really do. I think as we all get better at, you know, we know employers check social media all the time now. So I think it’s going to get to that point where you’re really validating what’s out there about a person. So yes.

Jenn DeWall: And they have to, you have to know who you’re hiring.

Amanda Jo Erven: That’s right.

Professional Conduct is more Important than Business Conduct

Jenn DeWall: Okay. We have our last mile marker, which is a genuine leader knows professional conduct trumps business conduct. Okay. That one’s a big one. And think that your business conduct is important too.

Amanda Jo Erven: Right? So let me tell you the best way that, that I have found to explain this is actually a way that Tom Peters explains the difference between the hard stuff and the soft stuff at an organization. So the soft stuff, the people, the culture, the ethics, the leaders, the relationships, the soft stuff is what’s hard at an organization. The hard stuff, the numbers, the bottom lines, the profits, that’s the easy stuff. That’s the soft stuff. That’s the stuff that should just happen naturally. Right? It should be what it is. Nobody should be working at them. Right. and so that’s kind of what I think between professional and business. So professional is the softer stuff. Professional is how you treat others. The care that you have for your customers or your patients. At the end of the day, whoever your stakeholders are, your organization is keeping them in mind first. Business conduct is I have to make the most money of any of my competitors, right? So it is when I say professional conduct trumps business conduct. sometimes if that business conduct comes first, that’s where we see these companies in the headlines. They are worried too much about their bottom line, and it gets out of control. They set too high of goals, and people start unethically reaching them. If they were more on the professional side and the professional bucket, they would never even think to do that. You would never inflate the numbers for the cost of your shareholders.

Jenn DeWall: Who was that woman? And you might know it better than I do because of where your area of expertise is, but there was a woman from Silicon Valley that was selling the, what was that? Blood testing or something?

Amanda Jo Erven: So, Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos is one of my favorite cases. Yes, she is, you know, and she is actually one that I to go back to what we started this conversation with, the big me, her vision and, and people will call her a visionary was too big. Right? It was, she was the big meat. It was all about her to the point of sacrificing the patients, right? Not even getting accurate blood testing results. And there were a lot of victims per se along the way of her. But I actually call her one of my classic big me examples like hers. And I actually just finished a great podcast series called The Dropout on her. If anybody’s interested in that story cause I’m enthralled with it.

Jenn DeWall: So, Oh my gosh, I want to learn more. She’s got a lot of people to buy into her message to her business even though it was all a fabrication.

Amanda Jo Erven: Yes, absolutely. Yep. And I and I actually just to credit, I’m a huge fan of John Bogle, who was the CEO and founder of Vanguard who passed away in April this year. And he is really the one where I’ve, I, I’ve got the professional versus business conduct. So he was obviously in the financial services industry, and in that industry, advisors can put people in bad investments, right, because they get higher fees or more commissions on those investments versus others. So he always told all of his employees to professionalism first before business. And he’s, he was highly successful and so is his company. And I think that shows a lot today. And that that should be modeled in other organizations.

What is Your Leadership Habit?

Jenn DeWall: No, that’s, yes, absolutely. It’s all a lot of modeling. So I have loved our conversation so much, but I know that we have to wrap up. So I have to ask you our final question, which we asked everyone. Which is what is your leadership habit for success?

Amanda Jo Erven: Oh, you know, I’m gonna go full circle and tell you it’s say something, even if. I think speaking up can be a habit. If we do it enough, Our Choices on the Road of Life actually has an entire chapter on the choices we make around our habits. And one thing I mentioned in there is that you have to choose the identity you want and build the habits around that identity. And I think if you want an identity as an ethical leader, you have to build those habits and speaking up as a great place to start. So whether it starts with the little things, when you see somebody taking that ream of paper home or whatever it is. To start small, you know, and obviously use discretion, but start somewhere and really start speaking up, standing up for what you believe in. Remember that silence is not golden.

Jenn DeWall: Speak up even if. Be brave.

Amanda Jo Erven: Yes, absolutely.

Jenn DeWall: Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. It was such a pleasure to interview you.

Amanda Jo Erven: Thank you. I loved being here.

Thank you for listening to today’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast with Jo Erven to purchase Jo’s newest book and find out how you can book her to speak with your organization on ethics and much more. Head on over to https://www.auditconsultingeducation.com/. And if you like today’s episode, don’t forget to share it with your friends and family and write us a review on your favorite podcast streaming service.