Recently, I viewed a movie that has me thinking about the current state of ethics and leadership training.
Waffle Street, from James Adams’ 2010 memoir of the same title, tells the true story of a bright young MBA who participated in some of Wall Street’s unsavory practices, took the fall for his company’s wrongdoing, and found redemption as a server at a waffle restaurant. A line taken from the movie has me wondering…
What we do is legal, therefore it is not unethical; if it were unethical, it would be illegal.
Here is the story… Although he was basically a good guy, Jim Adams nevertheless succumbed to pressures and engaged in unethical practices common in the financial world of the 2000s, spending six years “talking people out of their money.” When the iffy nature of the $200 million investment he put together became public, his company threw him under the bus to save face.
Ready to start a family with his wife, he searched for “honest” work and took a job as a server at a waffle restaurant. Waffle Street, adapted from the book about the experience, gives us a good guy armed with an MBA and a knack for numbers cast into the world of blue-collar work. He sets out from his beautiful house each morning in his Audi convertible to serve waffles, clean clogged toilets, and learn to treat all customers, no matter how weird or unpleasant, with courtesy and patience.
Driven to purchase the franchise, which requires he put in a thousand hours to qualify, he works double shifts and sells the car and house. When he loses his chance to buy, he realizes that he has already been taught so much by his new friend, the grill cook and the many restaurant regulars he’s met. This inspires him to use his financial skills to help those who need money rather than who already have lots of it.
Even after all the recent efforts at ethics courses and corporate training, particularly in schools of business and leadership, the goal that today’s leaders who are taught to be more ethical than their predecessors, seems to elude us.