Do The Right Thing, Always

No amount of money or professional success is worth your integrity.

Micah C/

Sherron Watkins started her career at Arthur Anderson in the early '80s. After a few lateral and vertical professional moves, she joined the Houston-based energy company Enron as the Vice President of Corporate Development. Little did she know she would become one of the most notorious whistleblowers of the early 2000s.

One could spend weeks describing the fraudulent practices of Enron's senior management, ultimately causing investors to lose a staggering $74 billion. However, the moral of the story is that Enron overstated its income significantly while simultaneously understating its debt. Therefore, the company's financial statements deceived stakeholders, leading them to believe it was performing remarkably well, which was far from the truth. To add insult to injury, Enron's auditor, Arthur Anderson, overlooked numerous financial representations that blindsided investors.

After uncovering the misrepresented financial statements, Watkins warned the company's chief executive officer and Enron founder Ken Lay. Unfortunately, the energy company's executives didn't take her word seriously. Determined to expose Enron's fraud, Watkins wrote a memo that was eventually released to the public five months after she wrote it. Once the Enron scandal reached the public, Watkins was called to testify in front of the U.S. Congress. She later published a book, Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron, which detailed her experience as an Enron insider.

The Example Sherron Watkins Set

Watkins didn't have to raise concerns over Enron's fraudulent accounting practices. After all, she likely made six figures in her executive role at one of the world's largest energy companies. However, unlike many of Watkins' former colleagues, she was driven by morality. She knew that unveiling Enron's corruption could cost her job and reputation and even prevent her from attaining future employment. But at the end of the day, Watkins testified that there's "no hiding from God." In other words, it was her own personal beliefs that prompted her to become a whistleblower. But no matter your secular or non-secular beliefs, Watkins abided by a golden rule: "do the right thing, always."

Torn Between Two Decisions? Do the Right Thing

Life experience gives us wisdom but not a voice in our head that helps us make choices leading to the best possible outcomes. And we know all too well that we face decisions every day. In the real estate industry, agents are faced with hundreds if not thousands of decisions from where to generate leads, to how to select the best CRM. Decisions are not unique to agents; we all face them — some much more important than others. As your career progresses and you reach higher levels of seniority, you'll often choose between two (or more) alternatives that can significantly impact a company's operations, financials, or both.

Imagine you're the CFO of a fast-growing manufacturing firm. Your chief accounting officer just resigned to pursue another opportunity, and the two accounting managers below her have expressed interest in the CAO position. One of the accounting managers, Jim, is your close buddy. You've known him for over a decade, and the two of you golf together a few times a quarter. Jim has only been at the company for five years and has only been in the accounting manager position for a year. The other accounting manager, Lauren, has been with the company for over a decade and in the accounting manager role for seven years. She previously served as the controller for a competing manufacturing firm, and her industry knowledge is second to none.

You know that Lauren is more qualified for the CAO role. However, you also know that not offering the role to Jim could hinder your relationship. But as the CFO, it's your responsibility to decide what's best for the company — not your personal life. Not to mention, others at the company know Lauren is better suited for the role. They also know that you and Jim have a close relationship, and if you offer him the CAO role, many colleagues will raise eyebrows.

Decision Time

After countless hours going back and forth, you appoint Lauren as the new CAO. Like Watkins from Enron, you followed the sound advice, "do the right thing, always." Offering the position to Jim was tempting, but you knew your relationships couldn't take precedence over the company's best interests. You also recognized that a personal friendship wasn't worth risking your integrity — the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. And fortunately, Jim understood the decision. Although he was a bit surprised initially, he invited you out for a round of golf the next day.

The Bottom Line

No amount of money or professional success is worth your integrity. Watkins blew the whistle on Enron not because someone forced her but because she knew it was the right thing to do. In the example above, the CFO promoted the most experienced accounting manager to CAO because he held his morals high, even though it meant potentially damaging his friendship with Jim. At the end of the day, you should do the right thing all the time, not just part of the time. When you do the right thing, there are no regrets or excuses.

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