Friday 28 November 2014

How easy is whistleblowing?

We have heard endless serious mischief within parts of the banking sector with no solution in sight that quite frankly could pull us all down. The debate often mentions whistleblowing as a type of solution to part of the problem. Let’s see if we can diverge deeper into this debate. The idea of whistleblowing is not a novel one. It is simply someone blowing the whistle behind the scenes confronting a situation that is either deemed as unethical or carries long term detrimental effect following a type of misconduct affecting or harming others and the reputation of the firm. Once something detrimental comes out into the open, well something can be done about it, improved, changed or disciplined before it is too late. This sounds like how we were brought up as children and in the end pretty straight forward does it not?

As easy as this may sound, unfortunately these situations are sadly far more complicated as many adults still remain or become rebellious children. Let’s take a hypothetical example. You suspect that someone close to you in the company that you work for is defrauding another party in a business deal. It is a large deal, and encompasses a large amount of immediate profit for the company in question. The person (Let’s call him Johnny du Little) involved in this transaction is wealthy and successful or seemingly so and has a strong personality. A slightly chubby fellow wearing spectacles. He is also very high up the hierarchical ladder, in a position of responsibility and has many friends in high places or at least gives that impression with a small herd of so called followers. Take note crooks are generally mistrustful of others and don’t have many friends or it so happens they are very clever at pretending to make friends with a few key people such as the accountant or lawyer, the regulator or tax collector and even the lender or investor. This is just so Johnny feels well protected.

At this point in time you suspect fraud and are 99 % certain. You feel helpless, trapped as you are not as successful and slightly lower down the food chain plus you have fewer allies. In other words you feel in a position of weakness and not of strength. What do you do? Do you go along with it and become an accomplice or do you turn a blind eye and walk away? What if this person happens to be your boss?

These are very difficult situations neither of which are ideal as a combination of fear and palpable stress creeps in as most likely job security remains on the balance.

Let’s see if we can enlighten further pointers into this scenario by turning this into a kind of fiction as you decide to do something in which you have your reasons.

First of all find an ally. He can be a colleague a kind of person you trust that you can bounce off with. The point here is that by having an ally will encourage you to help alleviate your own fears. Ideally this ally is in a stronger position or furthermore pretends to be a confidante of Johnny's. It becomes a game. Call it the shadow game. Therefore write down conversations and pick up evidence in this game, for you have now gone into battle and knowing your enemy is paramount. Challenge Johnny in a clever way. It will arouse his suspicions yet not to worry as the last thing Johnny will expect, is to be double crossed. Meet your ally in outside places you are likely not to be noticed to discuss strategy. Be patient and above all calm, as there is a saying in battle ‘Wait until you see the white of the eye.’ The moment has to be right before you make your move. Johnny will make mistakes. They often do as they are blinded by their own arrogance or greed. Johnny could even be proud in what he is doing as you pick up more evidence that affirm your own suspicions. 

You make your move. As Johnny is higher up the food chain, the best move to make is go higher up than Johnny and report his or her misconduct, knowing that your job is at stake. This is the risk you are prepared to take to do what is right as it is highly possible that at this point Johnny becomes very suspicious of you and will do everything in his power to get rid of you. This is good as Johnny has no evidence, just hearsay, and the higher the suspicions, the more irrational, threatening, paranoid, or even dictatorial Johnny becomes whilst he slowly feels the noose around his own neck. The stakes get higher as above Johnny, people may also be fearful what with litigation and confidentiality issues and so on yet it is important you fall onto someone you perceive, has the right amount of integrity and authority to do something about it. The story may involve further shadow games as you develop one or two more key allies as you may lose your job and so on….and yet together in your tight nit group you stick to your guns….

Do you get the picture? Not easy is it. Let me make it plain. Whistle blowing is not for the fainthearted. Look at this person Alayne Fleischmann an ex JP Morgan Chase securities lawyer although if true, perhaps she could have been a little more clevere about it. If the CEO of JP Morgan Chase and his motley crew whose behaviour are made out to be sociopathic as reflected in both articles, well they need to be held accountable with the possibility of licences revoked from conducting business here in Europe. I would support this lady wholeheartedly. Fortunately legal protection is under discussion in some governments to encourage more people to come forward.

The higher the stakes, the higher the risk I suppose, yet the action remains the same albeit if you were part of a small organisation or a larger one. If you feel uncomfortable with all this, take light from this story. During his meeting with Hitler, the Finnish Field Marshall Mannerheim lit a cigar. Mannerheim supposed that Hitler would ask Finland for help against the Soviet Union, which Mannerheim was unwilling to give. When Mannerheim lit up, all in attendance gasped, for Hitler's aversion to smoking was well known. Yet Hitler continued the conversation calmly, with no comment. In this way, Mannerheim could judge if Hitler was speaking from a position of strength or weakness. He was able to refuse Hitler, knowing that Hitler was in a weak position, and could not dictate to him.

Another way to look at it, is fast forward a few years. The biggest financial cover up in history had been unmasked practically causing the entire financial system to collapse, in which plenty of people are put on trial with many facing prison sentences. You were there as a banker and did nothing perhaps even remained an accomplice in hiding and will regret this for the rest of your life. Or you did something by averting this disaster, as you look back in hindsight. Well it was not that bad was it and moreover it changed my life forever? Which path would you choose?

Thursday 27 November 2014

What is faith?

A great film that I would recommend people to see called ‘Kon-Tiki.’ This is a film based on a true story about a famous Norwegian explorer and anthropologist called Thor Heyerdahl that had led the Kon–Tiki expedition in 1947. An entire museum in Oslo that I once visited is dedicated to this story which I will outline as follows. Heyerdahl spent much of his time in Polynesia and was convinced that there was migration between South American natives into Polynesia around 1000 to 1500 AD, way before European settlers. He had figured out this theory based on drawings he had discovered whereby concluding that people must have migrated with the trade winds and currents on wooded rafts with basic sails.

The explorer was determined to prove his theory and in doing so he wanted to cross the Pacific on his very own wooded raft made from basic material such as balsa wood and other basic equipment similar to those used in that previous time. He led the expedition together with a small voluntary and resilient crew, where they had set off from Peru. According to their nautical calculations the winds and current would change at a certain point out in the middle of the pacific to bring them on target to the Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia.

Once out in the middle of the ocean it seemed apparent that the winds would not change. Heyerdahl’s crew’s morale was quickly diminished and hope was rapidly dissipating. As one member of the group had shouted out in distress to their leader ‘We don’t have your faith!’ It seemed that they would all perish and drown in the middle of the ocean. Yet the leader had never doubted his inner belief let alone his inner strength. He was so certain his theory was true, in that they would not perish and that the tide would eventually turn bringing them in the direction where they wanted.

Several days after this hair-raising situation, the current had changed. Suddenly the winds had led them into the right direction. All hope was restored and morale was high. Eventually after 101 days out at sea, the group had made it to Polynesia.

This is a remarkable story of human endeavour given the great adversity that this expedition was up against. One can draw whatever parallels from this story in our lives and even to nature. It is a story of remarkable leadership of a man who never abandoned what he believed in. It might be, for example that the winds and the current did not have to change and yet they did. Some might call this luck. For me this an example of the simplicity of faith.

Today in Europe many of our businesses and in particular our banks and political leaders struggle to define a coherent path, a higher purpose or at least do not adhere to their own vision. This is where things start to go wrong, adding to our lack of confidence and of a self-belief that is being eroded day by day. For example some might believe that economic growth is our sole destination, whereas is it not that growth is the positive result once we know where we are heading? Moreover if we do not know our destination, how is it that the tide is able to turn?

Our current economic system confirms that many of us out there feel; that we are in fact out in the middle of the ocean having no idea where we are heading, with others thinking yes we may as well jump ship, sink or perish whilst dark clouds are upon us. Some may talk the talk yet have no idea how to walk the plank I mean walk the walk. Others make short term decisions putting plasters wherever there is a leak in our balsa wood or a rip in our sails hoping things may get better.

The Norwegian explorer knew his destination. It was simply a question how to get there, even in the face of adversity by putting his crew at risk then bringing them to hope and safety, and yet I am certain our leaders can learn that to get from A to B requires a coherent vision, a certain resilience, and above all, belief, to allow us to be consistent to that vision. We must know what ‘B’ is and then when knowing our destination we can rely on such great people for the tide to turn. And yet my undeniable optimism is that there are many more men or women out there not necessarily at the top of the pile that exist that can make that difference that understand that we must work together, understand in what direction we are heading, and knowingly how to reach it; Men and women of extraordinary coolness, talent, vision and most of all of faith.

Be bold in the face of adversity and humble in triumph

Tuesday 4 November 2014

What is fear?

Often these articles are showing an interest in social philosophy in order to help and provide more meaning in our lives in the context of our business culture today using examples from others, from what I read, people I meet and my own personal experience. This is so we can make that difference, through creativity, ideas, sound judgement, far-sightedness and the use of knowledge for the advancement of others. As this in my view is the right way to view humanity so that we, as human beings can strive for our hopes and dreams. Today there is a hindrance into this way of thinking as something in us is pulling us back, in our ability to move forward in a different direction. It's seemingly very likely that this deterrence is a fear of some loss, yet in the end, as so often the case, time will tell us what it was. And if my judgment serves me correctly it will confirm that this loss was based on some illusion or myth.

Today I would like to write about fear. What is it? Is it a state of being? We have many fears. The deeper ones are fear of change or of loss, which may link to our lifestyles, and comforts, fear of being judged as inadequate by others, or fear of being hurt emotionally, mentally or physically.

Yet all these fears are linked to our future which in short is the fear of the unknown, plus they relate prior to the act, as so often the case we act on impulse, basic instinct without taking the long term implication into account as we run away from the unknown factor and what will it do to me kind of thing.  So how do we fight these fears in us? Is it by having courage? Is it by having a higher belief? We all have courage if we were put to the test. We all have beliefs, well supposedly, otherwise how would you define who you are?

No, it is before that act; therefore in thinking you are doing the right thing which is where we need encouragement, or reassurance. This is linked to our confidence adding to our inner sense of security. This encouragement which can help anchor us can come from friends, family, great colleagues, teachers, love of our work and so on or elsewhere. Courage is different as once you are committed to the act, you know you are doing the right thing, even in the face of adversity or facing an unexpected situation. There are so many unsung heroes in our world. Often their modesty and discretion is what describes their very nature of them.

The mainstream media have no idea how to find them or perhaps they have no idea how to define true heroism, nor success. And as so often the case the media’s only concern resorts to the depravity and sensationalism around us making all of us see the world in a negative way adding to so many of our problems and solving nothing, which arguably creates a far more dangerous situation making  some of us more fearful and others more immune than ever.  

Today Europe appears to be trapped, possibly in denial of its past, fearful of its future and so are our banks and we are seeking for a way out except that we cannot find the key. This is partly linked to our lack of confidence. Did you know there is a bank out there that defines sustainability, in the true sense of the word? By this I mean they actually act in what they preach. I would describe this bank as a heroic and pioneering bank with courage in the face of regulation and media adversity. Perhaps the media may describe this as an example for others, in so as others can be encouraged to follow suit. Could this help to answer to some of our fears?

In short to fight our fears, it simply means double checking in what I am doing is what is right. A kind of someone telling you, ‘you can do it attitude’ that builds our confidence. We all know what is right, if we take the time to think as we all have a conscience and yet we will always be seeking that reassurance. With that reassurance, the fear subsides, nothing else matters and the peace in you just takes over as we become more attuned to sensing danger.

Hold on I have not acted yet? Well we have to act. This is how others will radiate around you as you have to throw a stone to get the pond to ripple otherwise nothing will happen, and nothing will change. Or there will always be that distinct danger that the wrong people in responsibility do the acting in our world or shall I say play acting which brings us back to that state of illusion whereby deepening our fears…..

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
Bertrand Russell