If you’re the type of person who subscribes to the “tone at the top” book of leadership, what’s your honest assessment of the United States right now?
Regardless of your race, gender, or political affiliation, it should be clear our country is more divided than ever—a fault line further magnified by the presence of the coronavirus pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in police custody. The words “Cold Civil War” have been thrown around the political space, and it isn’t hard to see why. When perhaps the most polarizing person on the planet is put in charge, what else can you expect?
But this isn’t an indictment of President Trump alone; nor should it be. As much as it seems he wants us to believe otherwise, he isn’t the only one at the controls. The checks and balances of our government—though harder to find through the noise of modern society—still exist, and there’s room for real solutions to our problems if those who are part of the system care enough to find them.
Unfortunately, it seems each week we get a new reason to question the level of care among our elected officials. The most recent example is the fiasco with the Paycheck Protection Program, the government’s nearly $700 billion supply of aid intended for small businesses amid the pandemic. A Politico report this week revealed four members of Congress (from both parties) who benefitted from the program, not illegally, but clearly cases of conflict of interest—especially when two of them voted against a measure requiring transparency about who is receiving the loans.
This comes on the heels of another high-profile round of accusations directed at a group of senators (again, from both sides of the aisle) who allegedly used confidential information from coronavirus briefings to sell off stocks before the pandemic wreaked havoc on U.S. markets. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) was forced to step aside as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee while he’s being investigated as part of the scandal, and the Justice Department has closed its probe into the three others (though even the DOJ isn’t immune to second-guessing these days).
It may be just a few bad actors, but it creates further cracks in an already fractured façade. When our tone at the top seems like chaos at best, what is the domino effect? How is the American public supposed to react when the individuals creating the rules don’t know or care to stay within them?
None of this should affect the work compliance officers do on a micro level, but on a macro level, the profession suffers. Think of it like an organization: Even the hardest-working compliance officer is invalidated if the C-suite shows no interest in following the rules. A CCO can do everything in their power to reinforce the importance of compliance, but the image of compliance is in the hands of the decision makers at the firm.
When stacked against such a structure, a compliance officer’s greatest weapon is to remain non-defeatist. “Don’t be cowed. Don’t be silenced,” as former UN Ambassador Samantha Power said at the CW2020 Virtual Conference in May. Like nearly every profession, compliance is going to emerge changed post-coronavirus, and many would agree the opportunity is there for the field to become more important than ever.
Compliance alone isn’t going to solve all of our country’s problems, but more power in the hands of people set on doing the right thing is a start.