The Wisdom of Good Governance


That's Mike Murphy pictured above. For those that may not recognize him, or who don't care, he's the interim disciplinarian for the National Hockey League.

Murphy is seen here bobbing and weaving at a recent news conference where he defended the league's decision to suspend Vancouver Canucks defenseman, Aaron Rome for what remained of the Stanley Cup finals.

Rome clocked Bruin's star forward Nathan Horton with a late check at the blue line. Horton, concussed and carried off the ice by stretcher, was finished for the duration of the playoffs.

The NHL has itself a real predicament with the escalating risk of injury, even death, from headshots.

The guy usually in that hot seat is Colin Campbell. He had his fair share of criticism over the years for not cracking down on the escalating violence of the game.

The problem is that the NHL has not been consistent in how it assesses and penalizes infractions that result in dangerous injuries.

You could argue that the league has been forced, kicking and screaming, to discipline players and their teams because of the public outcry and the growing risk of police action and government intervention.

One thing is for sure. The days of "no consequences" for on-ice assault are over.


Exhibit B


The man pictured above should be familiar to most by now. He is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund and accused rapist.

Polls taken in advance of his arrest in New York City indicated that he would easily defeat President Nicolas Sarkozy in the spring elections.

Keep in mind that Mr. Strauss-Kahn has yet to be tried on the attempted rape of a hotel maid.

The man's reputation precedes him though. "The Great Seducer," as he is known in France, has crossed a reputational line that will be impossible to recover, no matter what the jury decides.

Libération editor Nicolas Demorand suggests that the arrest of Strauss-Kahn has sent shock waves throughout France. "Politicians ... enjoy a particular tolerance on this subject," he writes. "Part of the shock comes also from the unusual scene, until now unthinkable here: police arresting a top-level politician on a matter of morals."

There it is. Lax standards lead to misconduct. Tiger Woods and John Edwards have been recent students in this classroom.


Exhibit C


This is Junior. He's a holy terror. His teachers can't seem to get him to behave. His bullying terrifies his schoolmates. And his parents are in denial about the problem.

Junior learned early on that he could get his way through a combination of willfulness, disobedience and violence.

His parents believe that all kids are like Junior; precocious and rambunctious. They defend Junior's behavior to the school and in the playground, deflecting the complaints of others as over-reactions.

Privately, though, they are afraid of Junior too! They don't know what to do about him.

Junior's behavior is enabled because there are no standards or consequences enforced by his parents for his negative impact on others.

Maybe he is being groomed to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Bernie Madoff, or an N.H.L. goon?


Bad Behavior

Bad behavior at work, at home, and in the community is enabled by lack of good governance.

The three previous examples show how abuses are made possible by the absence, inconsistency, or avoidance of rules that guide conduct.

These gaps result eventually in behavior that endangers the collective good. Think of the U.S. financial crisis driven by sub-prime mortgage lending practices on Wall Street.

A robust governance structure that supports people in the workplace, home or community, is developed through:

1. Creating Involvement and Buy-in

The first way to build good governance is to involve all stakeholders in a process of dialogue about why governance is important.

This keeps those that are going to be subject to certain standards of conduct involved in their design.

Employees, community members, even the kids should be invited to participate in this exercise in civics.

Involvement builds buy-in. The absence of buy-in undermines a code of conduct or does not support the compliance required to make it effective.

Nobody likes to have rules imposed by others. Responsibility grows when the governed have their say about governance. That's democracy in action.

2. Agreeing Goals and Standards

A fair bit of thought is required to set a framework for ethical conduct that is appropriate to the needs and realities of the community, organization or family it supports.

Generally, good governance balances the rights of the individual with those of the collective so that individual freedom and social concord are upheld and protected.

For a corporation, goals and standards that support profitability, ethical behavior and the health and wellbeing of the work force must be factored into the governance plan.

Similarly, families need to consider how to ensure the liberty and wellbeing of each individual member as well as the needs of the family as a whole.

Specificity in goal setting supports clarity and enables compliance. Goals and standards that are murky lead to misunderstanding, confusion and transgressions.

3. Developing Rewards and Consequences

For governance to be effective, rewards for compliance and consequences for noncompliance must be identified and applied.

Usually, the operating freedom of companies and industries are dependent on the rules set by the industry or other regulating bodies being followed.

When those rules are broken or are inconsistently observed, the authorities must intervene with consequences that are applied uniformly.

Families too need a system of rewards and consequences to guide and support right conduct. For example, Junior's parents must hold him accountable for his behavior, especially if Junior endangers the wellbeing of his playmates.

Failure to follow the rules will eventually place Junior in jeopardy. It could also lead to escalating problems for the family in the community.

Junior's compliance with family and school rules should be rewarded by the eventual recovery of the privileges he lost through his misbehavior.

4. Education

Once a governance framework has been established, it is important that stakeholders be educated about the norms, guidelines and rules of engagement that underpin it.

Ongoing education that informs and empowers an organization's employees, family members or the community about their rights and responsibilities are critical to the practice of governance.

Too often, education is remedial. It is only when a transgression has occurred that education programs are introduced.

Forward-looking leadership is required to provide educational programs in advance so that transgressions are the exception, not the norm.


5. Accountability

Being accountable for one's actions is the basis of a civil society. It is the responsibility of every person involved in the community, organization and family to hold themselves accountable for their behavior and impact.

Organizations must also be accountable to the society and stakeholders they serve. They must operate with transparency and in accordance with the law.

Corruption is enabled when governments, institutions, businesses, schools, families and individuals abuse power.

Openness and communication are means of ensuring that the rule of law, and not personal gain, are driving the decisions and activities of people in positions of power.

Holding people accountable for their actions and ensuring that the rules are applied equally supports accountability.

Dominique Strauss Kahn, John Edwards and Bill Clinton are recent examples of individuals who have been called to account for their actions. So are Osama Bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashir Assad.

Gandhi reminds us:

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall -- think of it, ALWAYS."

Posted on June 1, 2011 .