One of the space shuttle disasters, he explained, had some of its roots in a problem with the tone to the top: messages got watered down, and people were too deferential.
It’s a good reminder that, as we think of the role of leadership, focusing on tone at the top is not enough. If compliance professionals don’t set the right tone when talking to leadership, support for compliance and a willingness of leadership to take difficult actions are much harder to achieve.
Speaking truth to power, especially when it is bad news, is never easy. People are naturally hesitant to tell those more powerful than them unpleasant truths, try to put a positive spin on things, and are sometimes too willing to go along with a leader’s decisions.
That, though, is not the job of compliance. And just as we must watch for the right tone at the top, we must also set the right tone to the top, especially when the situation is not a good one.