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Tips for ethical leadership from WorldCom whistleblower Cynthia Cooper

  • Communications
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  • Feb 7, 2018
Tips for ethical leadership from WorldCom whistleblower Cynthia Cooper

Not many people understand the challenges of doing the right thing like Cynthia Cooper. As the former Vice President of Internal Audit at WorldCom, she helped uncover a $3.8 billion accounting fraud scandal in the telecom giant – the biggest of its time. Now she is a best-selling author, consultant and speaker on ethical leadership, working to inspire the next generation of business leaders to develop a “moral compass.”

Cooper was the first keynote speaker for the inaugural Ivey MBA Leadership Conference, presented by the Ivey MBA Association and sponsored by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership. She was joined by other industry professionals including Steinthor Palsson, former CEO of Landsbankinn, and Nicole Verkindt, founder of OMX and Dragon on Next Gen Den.

Cooper explained that when you look behind the accounts and numbers, no matter what fraud was committed, it comes down to people and choices.

“Although making the right choice may not always be easy or clear, I believe there is a true north and there are values in the world that most people can agree on.”

Here are Cooper’s 10 tips for making the right choices in business and in life:

1. Know what you stand for.
“I encourage people to write their own personal mission statement. How do you what to live your life? What are your values? Think about your priorities and be intentional,” said Cooper.

2. Apply the golden rule.
Simply put, treat others as you wish to be treated.

3. Understand you’re capable of making bad decisions.
No one is perfect. And remember, “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s the ethical or right thing to do.”

4. Ask yourself tough questions.
Would you stand by your decision if it landed on the front page of the paper? How would you feel if your parents, peers and mentors knew?

5. Practice making ethical decisions every day.
The compound effect. Our reality is based on the little decisions we make everyday.

6. Don’t keep it to yourself.
Talk it out. Get advice from the people you respect and trust.

7. Find your courage.
“I think we all have courage within us,” said Cooper. “I was not a pillar of strength throughout this process. There were times I was scared to death but I had to find a way to push forward in the face of fear.”

8. Apply the same code of ethics to every aspect of your life.
Whether at home, work or school, use the same ethical judgement. Don’t compartmentalize.

9. Trust your gut.
If something doesn’t seem or feel right, trust your instincts. “For me, I went on my gut instincts and just kept pushing.”

10. Above being loyal to your superiors, be loyal to your principals.
Don’t assume that what your superiors are telling you is right just because of their authority.

Through understanding our own moral compass, Cooper said we are much more likely to making the right decisions, as leaders and beyond.

In the end, life is about choices and I challenge you to choose well.