The Crooked Tangle—How Personal Greed Can Strangle Organizations

Wed, Dec 10, 2008

Organization TangleToday's Wall Street Journal headline story outlines the case of Illinois Governor Rod. R. Blagojovich . The chief executive of the state of Illinois was arrested today for attempting to sell President-elect Obama's Illinois Senate seat. He was also charged with conspiring to bribe others and committing mail and wire fraud. Federal authorities also allege that the governor attempted to bribe the head of Children's Memorial Hospital in exchange for state funding. Further, the FBI alleges that the governor wanted Chicago Tribune reporters who were critical of him to be removed in exchange for a speedier sale of Wrigley Field.

I define an organization tangleTM as the convergence of strong egos, protected turf, and the propensity to blame others in the midst of complex challenges. In this case, Governor Blagojovich presides over a state government, not a corporation. However, I believe that his case represents the extreme of behavior possible within any organization and illustrates the definition of a Crooked Tangle. A Crooked Tangle occurs when a leader's personal agenda overshadows the common good.

What is interesting in this Crooked Tangle is that Governor Blagojovich campaigned as a reformer promising to turn around the corruption practices in a previous administration. This leads me to believe that this is as much a systemic tangle as a personal one. In other words, my guess is that the norms within the Chicago government condone behavior that clearly are unethical. And this raises the question of accountability.

We have seen Crooked Tangles on Wall Street. Clearly the heads of any number of financial firms turned their backs on unethical practices. And their Boards also turned a blind eye. A Crooked Tangle cannot exist within a corporation if there is a strong Board of Directors who holds executive leaders responsible for ethical and responsible behavior.

This Crooked Tangle serves as a nasty reminder that sheer hubris and greed, if left unchecked, can strangle an organization. In this case, we have yet to see the broad effects within the state of Illinois.

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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