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Going from shame to change

Richard Bistrong ( is the CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC in New York City.

Dorie Clark, in Reinventing You (a book that I read in prison that moved me from despondency to hope about my future), shares how “reinvention, and overcoming past perceptions, can be a daunting process.” She addresses how “dramatic and painful events can lead to true growth, and a meaningful change in how you, and others, see yourself.”[1] I thought of Clark’s counsel when I read a recent article in The New York Times, “Volkswagen’s Effort to Stop Scandals Needs More Work, Report Says,” where Hiltrud D. Werner, a member of the Volkswagen AG Board of Management for Integrity and Legal Affairs, stated during a press event how “it’s not easy going from shock to shame to change.”[2]

The journey that both Clark and Werner describe can affect individuals as well as corporations. But looking back on our enforcement feeds and reporting of corporate and/or personal misconduct, can those moments of ethical collapse be embraced by compliance and business leaders as an opportunity to spark what might be difficult and awkward conversations about what happened? In other words, can we collectively use such moments as learning and leaning-in opportunities, not just for a region or limited group, but for an entire enterprise?

I am often asked, “Richard, why not put your experience in the rearview mirror? Why do you keep reliving it?” And I’d like to share the “why,” as to widen the discussion about my own journey from “shame to change,” and what it might mean for corporate and compliance leaders whose organizations have been through an ethics and compliance failure, or who might want to use other real-world examples to strengthen their own integrity initiatives.

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