Tone at the Absolute Top

By Leita Hart-Fanta

We have all worked for questionable bosses who care little about their employees and seldom make an effort to make the right moves. They are in business to obtain power and money, and their employees are simply tools they use and abuse to reach their goals. They don't care how many people they hurt or how many rules they break along the way.

 
But some of us have had the privilege of working for fabulous leaders, authentic individuals who walk their talk and care about directing others along the right, moral path. Employees flourish under their wise and thoughtful direction.
 
The COSO literature points out that controls never work when organizations' leaders themselves don't follow the rules. Because their bosses don't care and, more often than not, bypass the controls, every employee eventually discovers that they don't need to follow the established controls either. As a result, controls designed to help the organization reach goals, protect resources, and prevent fraudulent activities are brushed off as unnecessary, silly, and burdensome.
 
Even Alan Greenspan, the champion of financial deregulation has changed his tune.  He now agrees that controls and regulation help to counteract the greed and emotionalism of the markets.
 
COSO calls the impact that the attitudes and behaviors of directors and management have on the entire organization the "control environment." Some refer to a leader's impact on controls as the "tone at the top."
 
Have you been watching the new Pope?
 
I've been keeping my eye on the new Pope. Not because I am Catholic - because I am not - but because I get a real satisfaction from observing his brilliant leadership. He is shaking things up. He means what he says, and he says what he means. He walks the talk. He is shockingly authentic in a world that seems to run on façade.
 
On November 24, Pope Francis published a paper, Evangelii Gaudium, laying out his philosophy of leadership and his vision for the Catholic Church. This is his "talk," if you will.
 
Here is an excerpt from his paper about the challenges the world faces today that caught my eye:
 
Just as the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say "thou shalt not" to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.
 
Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.
 
Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
 
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a "throw away" culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. . . . The excluded are not the "exploited" but the outcast, the "leftovers."
 
Did you see the picture of the Pope kissing and blessing the disfigured man in St. Peters Square? He modeled love and kindness. He modeled inclusiveness.
 
He also instructs the Church and its people to act ethically in a world that is focused on economic advancement. He wrote, "In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances . . ."
 
And these aren't just words! He declined to move into the Papal Apartment and instead chose to live in the Vatican's guest house. When he visited the president of Italy in early November, he refused a presidential escort and arrived without any pomp or ceremony in his simple, white Ford Focus. He even banished a bishop in Germany for spending church monies on a luxury residence.
 
This man isn't kidding around. And he is arguably the most important leader on the planet. You thought it was the US President? Not according to Prince!
 
You can be the president
I'd rather be the pope.
You can be the side effect
I'd rather be the dope.
(Prince "Pope" 1993) 
 
You might not agree with everything he says or does. He upsets plenty of people. But you have to admire anyone who can set such a clear tone for an organization, and maybe even the whole world. Now that's the tone at the absolute top.
 

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Governmental auditors unite! Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of “The Yellow Book Interpreted” and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors. Whether you are an internal auditor or monitor for a government entity or a CPA doing grant audits, you will enjoy Leita’s humorous take on the complexity of auditing in the government environment.

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