Prevention or Cure? Your Choice

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

Senior leadership teams and boards have a choice. In their ethics strategies, they can focus on either prevention or cure.

The cure approach is reactive and messy. You do the bare minimum required by law, wait for something bad to happen, and scramble to do damage control. Then you build an ethical support system (perhaps at the insistence of a regulatory body) to prevent it from happening again.

The prevention approach is proactive and positive, and it helps prevent those messy problems. You build the ethical support system up front, while things are going well.

Taking the “cure” approach seems easier when everything is going well, but all it takes is one highly visible mistake to pull the organization down in every way (in the media, in the stock market, in the eyes of customers, employees and partners…).

Here’s the most interesting thing I’ve discovered – Both the prevention and cure approaches require building an infrastructure that supports ethics in the organization. In the cure approach you choose to do it in the public eye, possibly under court supervision, while bleeding profusely from taking a hit to your credibility. In the prevention approach, you choose to do it now to prevent bleeding profusely in the future. 

Why should we choose prevention? It’s positive. Leading with positive ethical values builds trust and brings out the best in people, which brings out the best in the organization, which leads to great results. The cure approach leads to negative front page headlines, a tarnished reputation and poor organizational results. 

Prevention or Cure? Your Choice.

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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