THE BLOG

Jian Ghomeshi Is a Workplace Reminder that Character Should Trump Talent

11/07/2014 12:43 EST | Updated 01/07/2015 05:59 EST
CP

By Gerard Seijts

Instead of focusing on the CBC's core business as a public broadcaster, the organization's senior management is currently spending considerable time and energy dealing with the scandal-plagued departure of Jian Ghomeshi from the hit radio show Q with Jian Ghomeshi.

The CBC willingly tied its brand to Ghomeshi when it attached his name to the program he hosted. But that move came back to haunt the organization in late October, when the broadcaster terminated its former star for conduct deemed unacceptable for an employee. According to media reports, Ghomeshi expected the CBC to support him against allegations of sexual abuse privately aimed at him by one woman. But he was fired after showing CBC officials evidence that was supposed to convince management that the bruise-making sex acts in question were consensual.

At least nine women and one man have now alleged that Ghomeshi subjected them to violence, sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. As a result, the CBC has spent weeks frantically attempting to distance itself from Ghomeshi by removing references to him from promotional material and taking down huge images of him from its physical locations. Management is also dealing with a lawsuit filed by Ghomeshi for defamation, breach of confidence and punitive damages following his high-profile dismissal.

With all due respect to anyone victimized in this case, it is important to note that Ghomeshi has denied any criminal wrongdoing. Nevertheless, this incident serves as a stark reminder of the risks that stem from ignoring character in the workplace. According to media reports, allegations against Ghomeshi date back to his university days. Industry insiders reportedly warned people against working with Ghomeshi. And even if official employee complaints were not filed, the CBC appears to have ignored, or at least failed to take seriously enough, internally voiced concerns about his behaviour at work. Simply put, warning signs indicated that he was not a good boss. But they were no match for the perceived benefits that were seen to be gained from employing Ghomeshi.

This should not happen. Talent and commitment are important. But when assessing employees or potential employees, it is also critical to determine if they have the character required to be a good employee and strive to be an even better one.

At Western University's Ivey Business School in London, Ont., where I serve as a business professor and run the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, we assess leader effectiveness on the basis of competencies, character and commitment. After all, when one of these is deficient, the strengths of the other two pillars are seriously weakened and problems eventually develop. The best example of this was the 2008 financial crisis. If anything, there was a surplus of competencies and commitment among bankers. But shortcomings of character still caused the global financial system to nearly crash.

Overlooking bad behaviour is easy, especially when it involves top performers. But leadership is not supposed to be easy. As I noted in an earlier blog on the NFL's early support for football star Ray Rice, who was caught on video knocking out his wife, hanging a list of organizational values on the office wall means absolutely nothing if the values in question are not reflected in employee behaviour. And any transgressions demands serious action by organizational leaders.

This isn't about reputational risk. Believe it or not, the long-term benefits that come from ensuring you have a healthy work environment and happy productive employees are far greater than anything a star talent with questionable judgement can provide.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Gerard Seijts is a Professor of Organizational Behaviour, holds the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Chair in Leadership, and is Executive Director of the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute of Leadership at Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario. He can be reached at gseijts@ivey.uwo.ca.

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