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Help Wanted: Vice President of Courage
by John Renesch

 
   
 
   

The other day I was attempting to locate a colleague, a partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) in their London office. His email had been returned to me so I thought I might locate him on the PWC website.

I was delighted to see a phrase right there on their homepage: “Vice President of Courage.” I was pleasantly surprised to see such a phrase on the public website of such a large multinational organization and made a note to come back and delve more into what they had to say about this.

Days later, when I returned, the phrase was no longer there. Apparently, their homepage is constantly changing and the words were nowhere to be found. Even a search of their site failed to find any trace. Despite this oddity, I had already been sparked to think about what might have been meant by the term.

One reason I was curious about this is that four years ago I wrote an editorial that proposed a new executive committee position for corporations: a “Vice President of Consciousness” (see www.renesch.com/newsletters/Aha20.html). I first heard the term from Robert Rabbin, an outspoken colleague who has a knack for wordsmithing, and it appealed to me as a real possibility for forward-thinking companies.

Since the word “consciousness” is not part of the everyday vernacular of business, it occurred to me that a “Vice President of Courage” may have a better shot at actually getting a seat at the table in today’s boardroom instead of being destined to remain a “nice idea.” In the aftermath of Enron, WorldCom and all the other scandals on Wall Street, I thought perhaps this term might possess enough currency to gain some acceptance.

I have no idea of either the context or the content of what PWC had in mind so I will make up my own. Any company that adopts this new seat for their executive committee would be on record as having taken a stand for corporate chutzpah, a voice that can be counted upon to speak out when others in the team might be content to remain silent or complacent. Of course, courage by itself does not ensure integrity or right action but it is one key ingredient.

Whistleblowers possess courage. But they also possess a moral compass that allows them to recognize wrongdoing when they see it. Call it conscience or awareness, this is another key ingredient that will improve integrity and social responsibility among our new “nation-states,” the multinational corporations that dominate the global culture today.

While I still prefer the title of VP of Consciousness since it is broader and includes the prerequisite of courage, a VP of Courage would certainly be a step in the right direction toward more socially responsible and just business practices. And, of course, appointing a VP of Courage would mean firing a virtual member of the executive team, the now reigning “Vice President of Fear.”

What allowed the most recent Wall Street scandals to occur, and what allows unreported wrongdoings to continue, is the fear-based silence and complacency of all those who sit by while the books are “cooked,” fraud is committed and executive compensation reaches obscene proportions. While a few people might be the perpetrators of the wrongdoing, there are much greater numbers of “co-conspirators” who enable the perpetuations through their silence or the absence of dissent.

It is so easy to scapegoat a “few bad apples” but corporate wrongdoing and the public disrespect for “business people” will continue to grow as long as the masses allow it. Until everyone heeds that “calling to speak” that King spoke to, the system will continue to degrade and degenerate and so-called “free market capitalism” will lose all credibility. This is when revolutions happen. This is when those who feel disenfranchised start demanding a “fair share” and, failing to get it, will riot, destroy and bring the corrupt machinery to its knees.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. “Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak.” This is the challenge of people who work in large corporations. We need battalions of VP’s of Courage to “betray” the existing system that is bankrupting the souls of people who work within them, to take personal stands and “break the silence of the night.” Whether they work in the executive ranks and see it first hand or in the print shop and read falsehoods in what they are printing, whether they are in corporate communications and know they are perpetuating untruths to the media or asking compliance officers to go along with an impropriety, these “unauthorized” VPs of Courage are being called to speak.

Workers can either embrace this “vocation of agony” and speak out now or condemn their children to a future of global agony and a dis-civilized society. It’s a choice facing everyone who works these days.


     
   
     
   

The Author

John Renesch

John Renesch is a businessman-turned-futurist and international keynote speaker. A veteran of over 30 years as a businessman, he has since published a dozen books challenging the way we think about work, leadership and the future. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing. He offers a free monthly newsletter, FutureShapersMonthly. For additional information about John and the services he offers, visit www.Renesch.com .

     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2004 by John Renesch. All rights reserved.

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