Lessons Learnt Working At Enron About Corporate Ethics


After college, I had the most incredible job for a budding macroeconomist with a global perspective. It created markets for natural gas, dark fiber, and weather derivatives, among other things, working for a Fortune 10 corporation. The Wall Street darling. It was until it wasn’t. My bosses, on the other hand, were sentenced to prison.

That’s right, and I was a member of Enron’s SWOT team until news of the company’s financial scandal broke, shattering everything I thought I knew about business and leadership.

To say that the experience shocked and disillusioned me is an understatement. There’s nothing like having to talk to the FBI and SEC as a 25-year-old about what you thought was business innovation — but was fraud in some cases — to make you reconsider your career path.

I’d had enough of corporate America’s bad taste, so I packed my belongings and headed to the South Pacific for a few months. After beginning to write a book about my experiences, I realized that I could significantly impact the business world, starting with its leadership. Today, I’m convinced that a company’s core values of integrity and trust must be at its core to succeed. More importantly, if it is to significantly impact the market for investors and those whose lives it affects.

Corporate ethics has undeniably taken center stage in today’s headlines, from Uber’s culture crisis to United Airlines’ PR woes and the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal. We’ve been repeatedly reminded of the consequences of corporate misbehavior. On the other hand, companies love to brag about their corporate social responsibility programs and good deeds to the public. However, they rarely look inside their organizations to consider what corporate ethics entails or how to approach the issue from the inside out, rather than just from the outside in.

While some Fortune 100 executives have gone to jail to pursue financial results at all costs, others have advanced their companies by making decisions based on integrity and a commitment to their employees, customers, and shareholders. The truth is that it isn’t a trade-off. It’s not enough to have ethical business practices; it’s also important to develop trustworthy leaders. If leaders do not act with integrity, it sets a bad example for everyone else and directly and negatively impacts the bottom line.

So, how does ethical leadership manifest itself in the real world? I believe that leaders must understand the three “Es” to build the trust necessary to build a high-performing organization:

1. Animosity

is about embracing enthusiasm and enthusiasm for the company’s vision. Regardless of your leadership style, it would be best to exude a deep belief in and excitement for the company’s market opportunity. How can you expect employees to embrace the company vision enthusiastically if the leaders do not?

2. Self-determination

BeginsBegins with a belief in your employees’ ability to drive results and the willingness to relinquish control and allow others to make decisions. Employees supported and guided in taking ownership of change, finding innovative solutions to meet corporate and personal goals, and executing even beyond their expectations are the best leaders.

Read Also: Five (5) Attitudes That Decrease Your Authority | How To Avoid Them

3. Compassion (or emotional intelligence)

To help your team do the best work of their lives, you must first understand their drivers and motivations. Don’t worry if you don’t have this skill; all you have to do is ask your employees questions and listen — really listen — to figure out what makes them tick. Because we are all human, finding common ground can help to foster loyalty and corporate pride.

For leaders, the three “Es” are an excellent place to start. However, there are a few must-haves to keep your company on the right track:

Align the leadership of the organization.

It’s one thing for the penultimate leader to lead ethically; however, it won’t matter unless other key leaders do the same. Because even one bad apple can ruin a company’s reputation and call your leadership into question, you must set a holistic example of how you run the company. Take a look at what happened at Nike recently. Bad behavior went on for far too long, with one executive stepping down and several others being asked to leave. This could have been avoided if the entire leadership team was held accountable and committed to respect and integrity.

Make quick decisions about difficult people.

Returning to the Nike example, leaders needed to act quickly to remove bad actors rather than turn a blind eye or encourage them. These situations result in bad PR, but they also impact the talent pool and revenues, as more and more consumers base their purchasing decisions on brand reputation. Unfortunately, at Enron, a slew of bad actors were not only left in place but also rewarded and promoted, resulting in several people being sentenced to prison.

Read: How Can You Tell If A Prospective Employee Is Worth Investing In?

Establish your board’s ethics.

Your board of directors should reflect the company’s high ethical standards. Additionally, include vocal participants who will ensure that your company is run ethically. In the case of Uber, it took one outspoken board member, Arianna Huffington, to persuade the rest of the board that the CEO’s behavior was so toxic that changes were required. Unfortunately, when a company’s performance is strong, bad behavior is often overlooked, as in Enron’s case. However, no number of quarters of explosive stock growth can compensate for bankruptcy, destroying fortunes and lives and legacies.

I witnessed one of the most egregious examples of corporate greed and arrogance, and I learned the importance of turning those lessons into net benefits. The good news is that leaders shape mission and culture and have a unique opportunity to make a long-term, positive impact. “Our company’s values are not for sale,” Delta CEO Ed Bastion said when explaining why the airline would end its discount for NRA members.

Don’t squander your leadership opportunity. Accept it and use your platform to leave a lasting impression. It’s for you. For the benefit of your employees. Humanity is a beautiful thing. Finally, there’s the bottom line.

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