Kennesaw State University
Governor of Georgia
pleased to get the invitation to speak at a conference on
developing ethical leadership, although in my mind the phrase
"ethical leadership" is redundant.
Think about it. Leadership can’t exist without ethics.
Ethics are those rules we live by that guide our choices and
our personal behavior. You might fake it for a while, but
the unethical leader will always be found out in the end and
will fail due to that lack of ethics.
Just think about the scandals we’ve seen in recent years
with Enron, WorldCom and other companies where people tried
to exercise leadership while abandoning ethics and abusing
the trust placed in them by shareholders and employees.
You can keep the charade up for a while, but the day of reckoning
Leadership and ethics go hand in hand. And it works both ways
– ethics can’t exist without leadership.
We learn our individual ethics and habits of leadership by
modeling the ethical leadership behavior of others. Doesn’t
every one of us have role models we absorbed our value system
and our personal ethics from? And doesn’t each of us
in a leadership position owe a debt of gratitude to the leaders
we learned from?
I learned the principles and habits of leadership in many
different roles before becoming governor
As a young man quarterbacking a high school football team
…I learned lessons about the importance of every person
completing their individual assignments to help the whole
As an officer in the United States Air Force I learned more
about duty, service and having accountability for the welfare
of those under your command.
As a member, majority leader and president pro temp of the
Georgia state Senate, I learned that your reputation for keeping
your word is the most valuable asset you have in politics.
Trust allows you to work constructively even with those you
may disagree with.
And in every case I learned in part by modeling a coach, a
commanding officer or a respected colleague.
It is important for those of us who are in leadership positions
to be always conscious of the fact that those we lead and
those we deal with are taking their cues from us about how
to behave ethically…or not.
We are always teaching, even when we aren’t aware of
it. In fact, we probably teach the most valuable lessons when
we aren’t consciously trying to teach a lesson. It is
those unintentional lessons that make the strongest impressions.
Nowhere is that clearer than in the most important leadership
and teaching role any of us can have … as a parent.
I have learned more about leadership raising four children
with Mary than from any other experience.
Parents are leaders. And in parenting that merger of leadership
and ethics is complete. Our children may listen to the words
we say … but they watch even more closely what we do.
They are modeling us constantly.
Parents soon learn you can’t fake it with your kids.
The only way to teach those ethical values you want to impart
to your children is to live by them yourself.
The teaching duty parents have extends to any leadership position.
We have a fundamental responsibility to help identify and
develop the next generation of leaders.
That applies to every leader here today … from business
… government … education … and the non-profits.
You set an example for your employees, business associates,
clients or constituents. They are always learning from you.
They are learning what kind of person you are, what standards
you set for yourself and what standards you set for others
in your organization.
The quality of the leadership determines the culture of any
organization. My first goal as governor is to restore public
trust in state government by changing the culture of state
government. Our form of government depends on a mutual bond
of trust between the people and their government. But people
have become cynical about their government.
They’ve seen too many examples of officials abusing
public office for private gain, of clear conflicts of interest
and undue influenced exercised by a favored few and of leaders
saying one thing and doing another.
Everyone in public life says they are for ethics and open,
honest government. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to
find someone announcing that we have too much ethical behavior
happening. But ethics has become a lot like the weather …
everyone talks about it and no one does anything about it.
The people of Georgia want something done to give them greater
confidence in their state government. The best way to change
that culture is to lead by example. That is why from my first
day in office, I have stressed the importance of high standards
of conduct and ethics in state government.
I want to demonstrate to the people of Georgia that their
government is trustworthy, responsible, accountable and ethical.
These are the values I want to instill throughout state government.
As the chief executive, it is my responsibility to set the
tone and the example I expect others in state government to
follow. So I issued the executive order on my first day in
office creating a strict code of ethics for the governor’s
office and executive branch employees. I also created the
office of inspector general to ensure accountability by searching
out waste, fraud and abuse.
To extend these standards of conduct throughout state government,
we introduced strong ethics legislation to correct potential
conflicts of interest, strengthen the reporting requirements
for candidates and elected officials and move away from the
negative "gotcha" approach to ethics and into a
positive, proactive mode in which ethics officers and the
State Ethics Commission can offer advice and guidance to help
state officials avoid ethical conflicts in the first place.
These measures will help us transform the culture of state
I have done my best to lead by example in my own conduct and
in the conduct I expect of those working for me. And I have
called upon the General Assembly to also lead by example and
pass my strong ethics legislation.
It is all well and good to talk about ethics in government
… but actions speak louder than words. The Senate has
passed my ethics package. The House has passed less comprehensive
legislation that I would call "ethics lite." It’s
With only days left in the General Assembly, I call upon the
House to make their actions consistent with their word and
pa ss a strong, comprehensive ethics bill.
I recently spoke to about two dozen college students in the
governor’s intern program who took a semester out of
their studies to work in various agencies of state government.
They’ve had a chance to see from the inside how their
state government operates … what value system is in
place … what level of commitment exists to serve the
people of Georgia.
As the higher education leaders here today might expect, these
young people came to the internship program full of idealism,
passion and a desire for public service. As part of my obligation
to nurture the next generation of leaders in our state government,
I want to ensure that when young people like these come to
our government offices, they enter an environment that reinforces
their idealism, strengthens their passion and fuels their
desire to serve the people of Georgia.
I want to be certain that throughout state government they
will find role models they want to emulate … and will
find that what we say about ethics and integrity matches what
I hope that many of those interns I met will decide to devote
a portion of their careers to public service.
Even as we deal with all the challenges and issues of the
day, we must be consciously growing the next generation of
Georgia’s leaders, those we will pass the baton to and
who will carry it forward. Growing those leaders follows a
very simple and ancient rule – as you sow, so shall
Let’s be conscious that with every action we take in
our official duties, in our personal conduct and in the policies
and legislation we enact, we are planting the seeds and setting
the example for those who are watching and learning from us
what it means to be an ethical leader.