As cricketers and financial institutions falter, how is your moral compass?
This is the reprise of a rather heartfelt article with the same title that I wrote some years ago following the dramatic fall from grace of a global identity.
Previously a cycling superstar and an inspiration to cancer sufferers everywhere, it transpired this athlete had blatantly flaunted the drug rules during his most successful years. Now, he is banned for life from competitive sports and the iconic yellow wristband which visually bonded those suffering serious illness is nowhere to be seen. The many who read his books and otherwise drew inspiration from his performances must reconcile this with a profound sense of disappointment.
Because I’m a keen cycling follower I had gradually worked out that Lance’s performances were chemically enhanced well before his confession. Somewhat like my childhood experience of deducing Santa was a charade, it left one deflated and feeling duped.
Arguably, though it proved easier to absorb than shock revelations which subsequently emerged that one of Australia’s favourite cycling sons had also doped. Tragically, his rationale was wanting to “Make my parents proud” whereas undoubtedly, they already were. What now were we to believe of his performances and celebrations throughout his career?
A freshly fallen hero
The catalyst for revisiting this topic was the revelation the Australian cricket team has been cheating and that the Captain was a central figure in what transpired. Really? Say it ain’t so!
A special place is reserved in the Australian landscape for he who wears the cap of national captain. So much so, that the incumbent is always at short odds to be awarded Husband/Father/Australian of the Year. His opinion is sought, sponsors flock around and television commercials featuring him with starry eyed kids and approving grandmas beam into our lounge rooms.
Our Test Captain is a ready exemplar of what we believe to be worthy Australian attributes. Steely eyed and resolute, the Captain is the person to whom we look to perform mighty deeds and lead from the front. A strong performance from our Captain is important for the national psyche. For good measure, we expect our Captain to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. It’s easy to entertain the notion the Captain is the second most influential leader in the country.
The recently departed incumbent appeared to be the very embodiment of these qualities. Complemented by his youthful good looks and refreshing candour, this fellow seemed to be an admirable carrier of the national flame. His fall from grace was swift and dramatic. Whilst other events of the day had more importance, it was this demise that proved the most newsworthy. TV and newspapers gave it prominence. Social media went into hyperdrive.
My reaction was to withdraw – not just from following an absorbing Test series featuring two evenly matched teams, but from the news of the day altogether. I chose to deal with my disappointment in solitude.
What to make of the fall from grace
Given we impute such qualities upon a mere mortal, what does it say about us when the person stumbles?
Years earlier, I had just finished playing a cricket match when commentary of the infamous “Underarm Incident” came over the radio. Then, just as now, fellow cricket aficionados shook their heads and agreed, “This is not good.”
Certainly, sponsors have voted with their feet – the exit of national and personal sponsors followed very quickly. Many millions got carved off the asking rate of television rights which were being negotiated at precisely that time. The impact on grass roots participation and volunteers is much harder to judge. The recently appointed inquiry will doubtless drag on before concluding much which is already obvious.
Me? I still love the game and I’m open to continuing as a volunteer coach. However, as was the case post the “Packer Wars” of years ago, it will be a while before I will be able to face Test Cricket again.
When trust is shattered
The Royal Commission into banks and financial practices is another case in point. The indignant “There’s nothing to see here” resistance from the leaders of our trusted institutions to an examination of their practices has been exposed as mere self-preservation. So too, the blatant mistruths they’ve told to the corporate regulator challenges the very foundations of our financial system. The callous disregard for their customers these institutions have displayed has shocked even the most hardened observers.
There’s a strong argument that celebrity financial planners with conflicted interests and fake credentials deserve the equivalent lifelong ban served on blatant sports cheats. So too executives who take advantage of customers in return for unwarranted bonuses must be purged. At worst, Lance broke people’s hearts. He wasn’t reaching for our wallets.
Moments of truth
To quote from my first book,
On the eve of the Olympic final in the movie Cool Runnings (based upon a true story), the main character is looking deep inside himself. After all, it is he who has the responsibility of driving the bobsled down the course at perilous speed.
“How will I know if I’ve done my best?” he asks.
The coach replies, “When you cross the finish line, you’ll know.”
It was this question of how I would react when faced with the blowtorch of examination that led me to take an elective on Ethics during my MBA.
Although the deliberations of ancient Greek philosophers were remarkably still relevant, it was a couple of simple guidelines that stuck with me –
- How would it look if what is currently being contemplated appears on the front page of the newspaper?
- Don’t do anything you’d be embarrassed to tell your mother
Doubtless the series of executives appearing before the Royal Commission have had cause to ponder these guidelines!
My studies underlined the significance of living by a set of values. Personally, this translates to the three words and accompanying phrases that I employ to keep me centred. At work, a different set of three aspirational statements guide Slipstream Coaching’s progress whilst two further aspirations developed with my co-founder provide remarkable clarity about our shared purpose.
The conclusion I came to in the preceding article of the same name is equally relevant now. That is, be cautious in terms of who you look up to and seek to emulate. Far better to develop personal strength and grow from within.
For sure, I’m disappointed with recent events. However, I choose not to fixate upon those who have made unfortunate choices. Instead it’s a welcome prompter to remain personally vigilant – to meet the gaze of that Man in the Mirror.
 Your Professional Headspace, Page 22.
Scott Charlton is a Chartered Accountant and a director of Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their potential. A long term business coach to both accountants and financial planners, Scott is also the author of three books regarding professionals in practice. Scott can be contacted by phone 0409 870 330 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.