We are delighted to announce that The Origins of Ethical Failures by Dennis Gentilin won CMI’s Book of the Year Award in the Leadership and Management Textbook category! Leadership Paradoxes edited by Richard Bolden, Morgen Witzel, Nigel Linacre was also shortlisted for the CMI's Management Book of the Year prize.
Read our Q&As with the author and editors of both books, which provide further insights into the reasons for writing them, key themes which are covered and what readers can takeaway from reading each book.
The Chartered Management Institute's award, which is now in its seventh year, was created to uncover the best books on management and leadership, and help raise the profile of the great management writing published in the UK. The 25-strong shortlist - sponsored by Henley Business School – reflects and offers guidance on the challenges professional leaders face in managing multi-generational workforces increasingly shaped by technology and engaged through ethics.
The competition is split into five categories: Management Futures; Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Practical Manager; Commuter’s Read; and Management and Leadership Textbook. A full list of the shortlisted books and more details on the expert judging panel are available via the competition website www.managementbookoftheyear.org.uk
Dennis Gentilin is an author, advisor and contributor to discussions on the topics of leadership, ethics, organisational purpose and performance.
Dennis was employed at the National Australia Bank (NAB) for a total of 16 years in a range of senior roles across financial markets and corporate strategy. Arguably his most telling experience during this period was the FX trading scandal that rocked the NAB in 2004, an incident in which Dennis was publically named as a “whistleblower”.
Recently Dennis authored a unique business book that shares some of his insights from the FX trading scandal. In The Origins of Ethical Failures Dennis has combined personal experience, extensive research and deep reflection to capture, like very few could, the lessons associated with an ethical failure.
Dennis’s primary motivation for writing The Origins of Ethical Failures is to educate. He hopes that the lessons he provides will be valuable to all leaders, and illustrate the central role they play in creating institutions that are more resilient to ethical failure. In addition, he hopes the book will play a role in continuing the push we have seen in recent times that makes ethics a key priority in the business world.
Dennis is an honorary fellow at the Centre for Ethical Leadership and holds degrees in banking and finance and psychology.
What made you decide to write this book?
The answer to this question really has two parts.
In 2004, I was publically named as a “whistleblower” in a FX trading scandal that rocked one of Australia’s largest banks, the National Australia Bank (NAB). The incident resulted in the resignation of the chairman and CEO, $360 million AUD in losses, and incalculable reputational damage (admittedly not large by global standards but big news in Australia). Although I did my best to put the experience behind me, it was the catalyst for a deep interest in human and organisational behaviour. Subsequent to the incident I returned to university to study psychology and it was here where I was first exposed to the nascent field of behavioural business ethics. Not only did I find the research in this field to be enlightening, but it spoke to my experience.
As the years went by, ethical failure (unfortunately) became a growing industry – the FX trading scandal at the NAB is far from a unique, isolated incident. What’s more, I felt that the traditional tools that were being used to explain and address ethical failure (namely rules, regulations, compliance, etc.) had significant shortcomings. It was this that led me to take a sabbatical in the second half of 2014 to write my book. I felt that by combining my personal experience with my subsequent research I could not only make a contribution to the existing literature, but provide regulators, consultants, students, senior leaders and the like with a unique and alternative perspective.
What is the one thing you hope readers take away from this book?
We are all susceptible. All of us, regardless of how “ethical” we think we are, can, in the right situation, behave in very uncharacteristic and unethical ways. And even though leaders may not actively engage in unethical conduct, they can, most of the time unknowingly, aid in sowing the seeds for ethical failure.
Is there something you think is important to highlight about this topic?
The majority of ethical failures are caused by flawed systems. Systems, by their nature, are very complex. Therefore, describing the origins of ethical failure and trying to identify the individuals responsible is far from straightforward.
Flawed systems emerge over extended periods of time (years, sometimes decades) when the actions, choices and decisions of leaders work to create conditions that incubate ethical failure. In many cases these leaders do so unwittingly and informally – that is, they are not consciously working to corrupt the system. What’s more, in large complex systems (like the banking and finance industry), it is not one leader acting alone or a group of leaders covertly collaborating that creates a flawed system. Rather, it is the combination of many decisions made independently by multiple leaders.
Once established, flawed systems condone, promote and at times reward unethical conduct. By doing so, they can normalise behaviour that someone operating outside the system would consider to be totally inappropriate. This can result in seemingly good people being seduced and behaving in very uncharacteristic ways – they simply do what the system dictates. Therefore, our tendency to assign responsibility to the “rogues” or “bad apples”, although providing us with a scapegoat, can at times be fundamentally flawed because it fails to properly identify and address the underlying issues that are sustaining the flawed system.
Given the above, it is easy to see why regulators sometimes find it difficult identifying the responsible individuals. This is not to suggest we shouldn’t have individual accountability – in some cases we arguably don’t have enough. But as much as the “rogues” should be brought to account, we must recognise that if we look no further we might fail to address the true nature of the problems.
Being at the coal face of the FX trading scandal that rocked the National Australia Bank in 2004 was both a blessing and a curse for me. A curse because as anyone will testify, being associated with an ethical failure, in any capacity, is not a pleasant experience. And perversely it is those who are left to deal with the aftermath that carry an incommensurate burden. The pressure to find answers, deal with the consequences, and sure up processes and controls to satisfy leaders and regulators is enormous.
But the experience was also a blessing. As Mary Gentile says, “Dennis Gentilin is a practitioner whose commitment to ethical business was forged in the fire of personal experience.” These are wise words. Although it can be incredibly bitter, there is no substitute for experiential learning – it is extraordinarily powerful and delivers the type of knowledge that no textbook can provide. This, coupled with my subsequent research and reflection, has provided me with some very unique insights into how organisations sow the seeds for ethical failure.
Of the many invaluable lessons associated with my experience, one is that explaining ethical failure is far from straightforward. Our desire for simple explanations is what leads us to search for scapegoats – the so called “rogues” or “bad apples”. This approach, although intuitively appealing, is significantly short sighted. It fails to acknowledge that ethical failures are incubated within flawed systems.
Flawed systems are innately complex and difficult to rectify. They evolve over extended periods of time (years, sometimes decades) as people in positions of power make decisions (most of the time unwittingly) that create favourable conditions for the emergence of unethical outcomes. These conditions work to guide the behaviour of those operating within the system, so much so that it is possible for people of seemingly good character to behave in very uncharacteristic ways – they simply do what the system dictates.
This being said, it is possible to shape systems and build institutions that produce ethical outcomes. Admittedly, there is no quick fix or “one size fits all” approach, and the effort required is considerable.
As a starting point, it must be recognised that compliance, rules, regulations and other formal artefacts of corporate governance are necessary but far from sufficient. Worse still, their imposition can at times have perverse effects and drive the very outcomes they were designed to avoid. There are multiple reasons for this but perhaps the most telling is that formal mechanisms work on the premise that we are rational humans who engage in deep deliberative thinking before engaging in wrongdoing. Years of research in the behavioural science proves that this is rarely the case.
Next, we must embrace the idea that corporate citizenship is fundamentally about making a contribution to the greater good. If there is one thing we can take from the global financial crisis it is that it provides the definitive example of what can happen when organisations lose sight of purpose. When financial institutions began prioritising money and money making, their employees, somewhat predictably, followed suit. Service to self was placed ahead of service to other, and people joined the industry to extract rather than add value (economic or otherwise). When this attitude pervades an entire industry, the implications can be catastrophic.
In addition, organisations must create environments that embrace transparency, so much so that those who shine a torch on wrongdoing are cherished rather than chastised. It is now broadly accepted that formal systems of compliance, no matter how robust, have their shortcomings. The best way to compensate for these shortcomings is to enhance an organisation’s human systems. A central component of any organisation’s human system is employee voice – people must not only be equipped with the skills to speak up, but with the knowledge that if they do they will be listened to, respected and have their concerns appropriately addressed.
Finally, and most importantly, building systems that produce ethical outcomes requires strong leadership. Ultimately it is those who hold positions of power within a system that have the ability to influence how it operates.
Typically it is leaders who lack integrity, humility and courage that are more likely to preside over a flawed system. Integrity ensures that a leader will display a deep commitment to their organisation’s purpose and values, in both their actions and their words. Humility ensures that a leader will acknowledge their fallibility and empower those around them to hold them accountable when their standards of conduct fall short (as they inevitably will). And courage ensures that a leader will face into the difficult decisions that need to be made when one chooses to consistently place their organisation’s principles ahead of both profit and privilege.
The above list is not exhaustive. To properly build and sustain the ethical foundation of any system arguably takes all of the above and a whole lot more. But two things that you can guarantee it will take are this: significant effort and time.
Dennis Gentilin is an honorary fellow at the Centre for Ethical Leadership and the author of The Origins of Ethical Failure, a book that has been shortlisted by the UK Chartered Management Institute for their Management Book of the Year award.
Morgen Witzel is an internationally known writer, lecturer and thinker on the problems of management. His twenty-two books have been published in twelve languages and have sold more than seventy thousand copies worldwide. He has published several thousand articles in journals including the Financial Times, South China Morning Post, Los Angeles Times, Toronto Globe & Mail, Forbes India, Financial World, The Smart Manager, EFMD Global Quarterly and many others. For the past fourteen years he has taught at the University of Exeter Business School and been part of the teaching faculty group at the latter’s One Planet MBA Programme.
Morgen’s writing and lecturing goes to the heart of what it means to be a manager today. He cuts through the superficial and the fads, and strips back the tasks and principles of management to their bare essence. What do people need to know in order to prosper in business today? How can they best face an uncertain future? What are the fundamental practices of good management that need to be observed, now and always? How does past management practice inform the present? These are the questions his work strives to answer.
Morgen has taught at the University of Exeter Business School, the University of Edinburgh Business School, Audencia Nantes, the University of Ljubljana, London Business School, Rotterdam School of Management, Durham Business School and Euromed in Marseille.His international consulting clients have included the Tata Group, McKinsey & Co., Rabobank International, Roland Berger, the Winthrop Group, the CEIBS consortium of international business schools and the European Training Foundation in Turin.
Richard Bolden is Professor of Leadership and Management and Director of Bristol Leadership and Change Centre at the University of the West of England, where he has worked since October 2013. Prior to this he was Senior Lecturer and Head of the Centre for Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter Business School.
Richard’s research explores the interface between individual and collective approaches to leadership and leadership development, with a particular focus on issues of identity, culture and collaboration. He has published on topics including: distributed leadership, systems leadership, academic leadership, worldly leadership and leadership development evaluation. His books include Exploring Leadership: Individual, organizational and societal perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking leadership for an uncertain world (Routledge, 2016). He is Associate Editor of the journal Leadership (Sage Publications) and reviewer for many other leading international journals.
Nigel Linacre is an authority on leadership and a facilitator of leadership and team development globally in organisations and universities.
Nigel is co-founder of Extraordinary Leadership which works with senior executives and teams in national and multinational businesses; and co-founder of LeadNow which brings leadership development to tomorrow’s leaders in British universities. He is also the author of a number of business and philosophical titles.
Day-to-day he enables individuals to become more aware of who they are and can be, prompting team members to form more authentic relationships with one another and with the team as a whole, building trust, coherence and performance. Clients include Belron, Honeywell and the United Nations. Nigel is affiliated with the Centre for Leadership Studies.
A graduate of Reading University, Nigel has taught formally or informally at 11 Universities: Bath, Bedford, Bristol, Kingston, London Met, LSBU, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, UEA and UWE. He is a Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and is familiar with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and various coaching methodologies.
Nigel worked in marketing before developing as a facilitator and coach. In a first career in advertising he worked at top-ten agencies Boase Massimi Pollitt (“BMP”) and Collet Dickenson Pearce (“CDP”), and wrote Advertising for Account Handlers. He has worked on Department for International Development (DFID-UKAID) and World Bank projects in India, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania, and for Plan International in Senegal and Panama. He has also worked for the United Nations in Dubai and Kenya.
He created the Extraordinary Leadership Journeywhere executives work in Kenyan schools. As an example of leadership, he is cofounder and Chair of WellBoring which transforms thousands of lives via water solutions in school-based villages in East Africa.
A keynote speaker, he is co-editor with Richard Bolden and Morgen Witzel of Leadership Paradoxes. His other books include: The Successful Executive; Why You Are Here Briefly; An Introduction to 3-Dimensional Leadership; Why Men Don’t Feel; The Magic of Existence; Worry-Free Happiness; and The Other Side of You; and he regularly adds videos on Youtube.
What made you decide to write this book?
It is easy to be disappointed by the variable quality of leadership in the world today. Developing more effective teams, organisations and/or communities requires us to challenge conventional wisdom and to re-evaluate the nature and purpose(s) of leadership itself. We felt the time was right for a book that highlights the many paradoxes of leadership and that encourages readers to embrace rather than seek to resolve them.
What is the one thing you hope readers take away from this book?
Leadership is not as simple as many people suggest. Thinking about leadership paradoxes helps us to recognise the diverse and contested assumptions that shape leadership practice and encourages us to take a broader perspective on how to develop better leadership.
Is there something you think is important to highlight about this topic?
Many established approaches to leadership and management are not well suited to the uncertain, ambiguous and changing contexts that organisations and societies now face. Whilst there isn't a one-size-fits all approach to leadership, with sensitivity and awareness it is possible to find ways of navigating the volatile and complex terrain, producing outcomes that are beneficial not only to leaders but also those whose lives they influence.
What is a common misconception about this topic that you would like to clear up?
Don't imagine you can become an effective leader without working on it. Don't imagine you can't become an effective leader if you do.
In 2001, as a young university graduate, Dennis Gentilin became a member of a FX trading desk at one of Australia’s largest banks, the National Australia Bank. In the years that followed the desk became involved in a trading scandal that resulted in the resignation of the chairman and CEO, the…
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