Leadership in the Compliance Function – Do You Encourage or Stifle?

by Thomas Fox

There are many ways for a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) to exercise leadership in not only the compliance function but also across the many disciplines in which compliance impacts in any corporation. In this Sunday’s New York Times (NYT), there were two diametrically opposite styles of leadership and management discussed in two articles. The first was found in the Corner Office Column, in an article entitled, “The Six Steps of Leadership (Plus Courage)” in which reporter Adam Bryant interviewed G.J. Hart, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President of California Pizza Kitchen. The second was found in the Off The Shelf Column where Fred Andrews, in an article entitled “The Military Machine as a Management Wreck”, discussed the recent book “Bleeding Talent” by author Tim Kane. I found that both of these articles provided some interesting techniques which the CCO or compliance practitioner could use in helping to set compliance as not only a key goal for any company, the articles also offered practical tips for day-to-day use in bringing the compliance perspective to the myriad of issues a compliance practitioner faces on a daily basis.

Hart related that his leadership style has evolved for the better because he has learned more patience and tolerance. He admitted that he used to “want things yesterday and would be very anxious about moving things along faster. But now I understand that tomorrow’s another day and that things will move along.” I have worked in industries where the joke was “If I want it today, I will ask for it tomorrow.” The reality, as put by Hart, is to think “about whether something really matters and how it will make a difference, versus thinking that everything matters and everything makes a difference.”

Hart said that the most important lesson he has learned is leadership qualities. He calls them “the six steps of leadership, surrounded by courage.” He believes that courage is always implicit because in any leadership role, you are stepping out, having the courage to be different “because you have to be different to be a leader.” Hart’s six steps are:

  1. Be the best you can be. Hart relates that you cannot “lead anybody if you can’t lead yourself. So you have to be honest with yourself about your good qualities, your bad qualities and the things you need to work on.”
  2. Dream and dream big. Hart recognizes that there is a “world of possibilities for yourself and for your organization.” You must have a dream and you must move towards it. This does not mean that you will “ever necessarily get there, but if you don’t dream, you’ll never even get started.”
  3. Lead with your heart first. Hart believes that your employees need to see that you are human and that you have a “human side” by showing people that you have compassion. It is all about being real. He states “It doesn’t mean that you don’t set expectations and standards. But if you lead with your heart, people figure out whether you’re genuine, whether you’re real.”
  4. Trust the people you lead. Hart recognizes that this may be the hardest trait for a leader to develop because this trait is all about letting go as a leader and allowing your employees to grow into their own style of leadership roles. Hart believes that only by allowing your employees to learn by making their own mistakes or falling down and picking themselves up and moving forward will they grow professionally. He believes that your role as a leader is to pick them back up.
  5. Do the right thing, always. Hart recognizes this is easy to say but as a leader this is where the rubber meets the road. In leadership Hart emphasizes that if your choice is following a rule or doing the right thing, you should do the right thing. He believes that this is particularly true “as it relates to people, and you genuinely believe in that person, sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing and give that person a second chance. Because we’ve all made mistakes and somebody picked us up.”
  6. Serve the people you lead. Hart believes that leadership is ultimately “about serving the people you lead.” It means that you should put a cause before yourself and to lead to make a difference. He ends noting that his role as a leader is to be “a catalyst for change, to create an environment where people can grow and prosper.”

In Andrews’ article, he wrote that the US military is now an “institution which is idiotic.” Andrews writes that Kane believes that “it dictates the jobs, promotions and careers of the millions in its ranks through a centralized, top-down, one-size-fits-almost-all system that drives many talented officers to resign in frustration. They leave, he says, because they believe that the military personnel system — every aspect of it — is nearly blind to merit.” This is in spite of the fact that Kane believes that “America’s armed forces are a leadership factory. He goes on to say that “former military officers are three times as likely to become corporate C.E.O.’s as their raw numbers would suggest.”

So what is the problem? Kane believes that “the root of all evil in this ecosystem” which is the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, enacted by Congress in 1980. Andrews writes that this Act “binds the military into a system that honors seniority over individual merit. It judges officers, hundreds at a time, in an up-or-out promotion process that relies on evaluations that have been almost laughably eroded by grade inflation. A zero-defect mentality punishes errors severely. The system discourages specialization — you can’t expect to stay a fighter jock or a cybersecurity expert — and pushes the career-minded up a tried-and-true ladder that, not surprisingly, produces lookalikes.” Kane’s revolutionary idea to overcome this inertia is to create “an internal labor market for job assignments and promotions.” This change would allow a commander to choose a subordinate rather than having the Pentagon make the decision for him or her.

I have worked in both types of organizations. I can personally attest to the greater creativity and flexibility which led to greater innovation, where leaders viewed themselves as stewards such as Hart believes himself to be. I have also worked in military like organizations where the thing that got one promoted was be as similar to the next level up the rank and where innovation was definitely not viewed as a plus. The difficulty for a CCO may be that he or she works in such an organization. But even if a CCO or compliance practitioner does work in a military style organization, Hart’s six elements of leadership can be used to create a more vibrant, and ultimately successful, compliance program.

Written by:

Thomas Fox

Compliance Evangelist on:

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