Doing the right thing (and being seen to do the right thing)
I’m sure many of us are having our hearts warmed by the many positive actions we see in these dark days. The volunteers taking supplies to those completely isolating, the generosity of neighbours, the Thursday night public appreciation to those caring for others – all these things have brought a tear to my eye.
But in this social media age, there is also the public-shaming of those who have transgressed Common decency like Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin first challenging the very idea that the Covid-19 could be spread in a pub, then telling his staff they wouldn’t get paid until the Government bail out money arrived (since reversed). Richard Branson, Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Mike Ashley have all been subjected to the brickbats of Twitter outrage. Even those who are ostensibly on the side of side of the angels have been hung out to dry for failing to practice what they preach, such as Scottish Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood who had to resign after visiting her second home twice.
The old rule that people in the public eye must not only do the right thing, but be seen to do the right thing, has never been more true. This is frustrating the hell out of me as, even as a lowly local Councillor, I have to constrain my cycling to the urban streets within a few miles of my house when I’m desperate to get the serotonin hit of the open road. But as I’ve preached following the rules, I must keep to the spirit of them as well as the letter.
The mistake that so many make is to think that because they are spending a lot of time doing good that it somehow buys them a bit of leeway if you step over the (perceived) line. It doesn’t. As the Greek philosopher Democritus put it:
Our sins are more easily remembered than our good deeds.
A lesson for all business leaders.