FIFA Scandal Shows the Need for Moral Leadership

Photo of deflated soccer ball.

Photo credit: pippalou from

How could it possibly happen? The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that the world’s once highly regarded FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) engaged in an illegal scheme of payoffs. Fourteen people were indicted—nine football officials and five sports-marketing executives—for wire fraud, racketeering, money laundering, including the acceptance of $150 million in bribes. In the latest development, Sepp Blatter, the organization’s president resigned.

This problem is not necessarily confined to the sports arena. Many leaders have failed their companies, shareholders, and customers because they either lied or didn‘t know right from wrong. They manipulated numbers and facts to fit their own agenda.

Each day, more business headlines indict so-called leaders: businesspeople, politicians, investment titans, whose dishonesty has been catastrophic. Many companies have shut down, and innocent employees and shareholders have suffered greatly. In many cases, their life savings have been wiped out, and careers have been sabotaged.

The minute you’re dishonest and bend the truth, the minute you fail to tell it like it is, you lose your credibility. This applies to issues great and small. I’ve seen many leaders lose the trust of their employees, and bosses when they compromise the truth, play loose with the facts, and fail to keep their word. Unethical behavior can taint an entire industry. The corrupt leaders at Enron, for example, polluted our views of accounting practitioners—a profession that seemingly lost its ability to self-regulate.

Corruption extends to even the smallest matter. For example, it’s the little things that matter most to people. If, for example, you tell someone you‘re going to get back to her the next day, do it. If you tell your team that a project needs to be completed in a specific way, you’d better adhere to your own standards and requirements. Double standards don’t cut it in leadership. You must do what you say and say what you mean, to paraphrase a Dr. Seuss morality lesson. If you expect your staff to be truthful, you must be the role model or you‘ll lose their respect.

As soon as an employee, peer, or boss senses you’re being dishonest, you lose the first chance to make a great impression, and word will spread. Nothing sullies reputations quicker. A white lie may seem inconsequential to you, but people look up to their leaders and expect to take their word at face value. And, if you speak, it’s like putting your comments in writing.

This is a trap that the weak fall prey to. In this turbulent world, we face a new economy characterized by the globalization of markets and technology, the democratization of information and expectations, universal connectivity, an exponential increase in competition, and new wealth centered in people and social capital. This turbulent economy has virtually dissolved old lines of positional authority based on command and control and elevated moral authority based on character and competence.

Those who practice sustainability and moral leadership avoid common mistakes and sins that often derail other leaders. They may be promoted for their technical know-how and job performance, but once in a management or leadership position, they gain the soft people skills required to sustain high performance. They maintain credibility and avoid pitfalls by being honest, forthright, and open; their values, allegiances and priorities are beyond reproach. Their strong character and integrity are manifest by their walking the walk and talking the talk. They create a climate of positivity, punctuated with frequent praise and recognition.

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