Avoid the corruption cycle: Lessons from the Lance Armstrong scandal

The Life: Corruption thrives in an environment that fosters greed and a desire to get things done at any cost - which was just the case in cycling's doping scandal, writes Tommy Weir.

Listening to Lance Armstrong's confession reminded me of the game of Monopoly. When it comes to doing right or wrong in business there is no "get out of jail free" card. The risk of ending up in jail without this card is far greater than the potential rewards from corruption. It takes more than rolling doubles three times in a row to clear one's reputation and earn back the right to lead.

Although leaders are not usually as corrupt as Armstrong's sophisticated doping schemes that result in breaking records, the violation of the law or ethics is still troubling.

Corruption is equally present in the business world, where it takes the forms of dishonesty, embezzlement, bribery, skirting the law or acting in an official capacity for personal gain.

The primary driver for corruption is an environment that fosters greed and the desire to get things done at any cost, which was the case in cycling's doping scandal.

Are most leaders greedy and do they think that the means should justify the ends? Not all leaders are corrupt, but the ones involved in (or thinking about) corrupt practices in one way or another, either because of greed or so-called compulsion, are tarnishing the image of many.

In Armstrong's confession, it appeared that he was saying he was not cheating because everyone was doing it. Almost as if the actions of the group are justification irrespective of the law. Whether or not "everyone is doing it" is not the criteria for making the right decision. While temptations may present themselves, prisons are full of corporate leaders who tried to take advantage of the opportunities and failed.

Leaders in this region need to be hypersensitive to the issue of corruption and alert to always acting in the right way. Throughout history, fast-growth environments have been bastions for corporate corruption. The West was plagued with corruption during the Gilded Age about a century ago. That era ballooned with a new tide of immigration and was dogged with social climbers and get-rich-quick schemers who were all show and no substance, which is corruption in its own right.

Unfortunately, there has always been and will continue to be a risk-growth trade-off. Corruption is a risk associated with fast growth. Leaders have to be prepared to work in the face of corruption without succumbing to it and more importantly to stamp it out.

The unpredictable emerging economies that are the fertile ground for corruption need leaders who promote integrity and trust.

Unfortunately, there is no exception to corruption here. The rapid growth in the region has brought in the unwanted (but common) issue of corruption. Newspapers and court records provide a multitude of instances in which leaders became careless and landed on the "go to jail" space or drew the "go directly to jail, do not pass go or collect $200" card. Leaders need to actively avoid corruption and the appearance of such - they need spotless integrity.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center