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How to help leaders, managers, and supervisors talk about ethics and compliance

Adam Balfour (, is the General Counsel and Vice President for Corporate Compliance and Vice President for Global Risk Management for Bridgestone Americas Inc., in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

In 2009, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought its first case against two individuals for unlawful insider trading relating to derivates. As part of the evidence used in the case, the SEC had a recording of a phone conversation between the two individuals, and one of them, Jon-Paul Rorech, said, “You’re listening to my silence, right?”[1] This line has stuck with me over the years because it is a reminder that sometimes we send explicit messages to others through our spoken or written words and our actions, and other times we send (or, at least, are perceived to send) implicit messages through our silence or even our lack of actions.

Leaders, managers, and supervisors play an incredibly important role in helping to build and sustain a culture of ethics and integrity throughout an organization. Whether intending to or not, leaders, managers, and supervisors are perceived by others to continuously send messages—sometimes explicit and other times implicit—which sets the tone and signals to others what is acceptable and not acceptable within the organization. We can help our organizational leaders, the rest of the employees, and our ethics and compliance programs when we help leaders, managers, and supervisors recognize that their messages to employees are impactful and help ensure such messaging is intentional; the intent of such messaging has the intended impact on employees and the organizational culture. In this article, I will share several practical and tested suggestions for leveraging the voices and influence of leaders, managers, and supervisors to build an organization’s culture of ethics and integrity.

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