The GFC has got me questioning my business beliefs. Help!

Last year I was honoured to receive a Future Summit Leadership Award from the Australian Davos Connection (that’s me just behind our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd). Just a few weeks ago I returned to the Future Summit as an awardee and as a speaker at the event.

The Future Summit is quite an amazing event and one that invites participants from across all sectors of Australian society, but in essence, attendees are typically established leaders of their organisations or emerging leaders in senior leadership/executive roles.

The audience includes politicians, academics, members of the business community, significant players in the arts and not-for-profit sector and more… all of whom are interested in coming together to ensure a brighter future for Australia and our regional neighbours.

Not surprisingly, the theme for this year’s event was ‘Priorities for Australia in the Crisis and Beyond’ and there was much talk of the Global Financial Crisis; but what was a little surprising (especially given the relatively conservative nature of the participants, most of whom live and breathe in the world of business and capitalism) was that there seemed to be a reasonable level of agreement that what we’re facing is slightly less of a financial or economic crisis but rather, a crisis of character!

What was meant by this?

Well, without necessarily apportioning blame to any individual, or even to any group of individuals, there was little if any disagreement from anyone when it was proffered that a number of people did what would be considered the ‘wrong’ thing to do even though they knew it was the wrong thing. There were undoubtedly numerous people who engaged in behaviour that was clearly unethical and not in anyone’s long-term interests. To give just one example, at the most obvious end of the spectrum, it’s difficult to think anything, but something’s not quite right when loans are approved to people who clearly cannot, and never will be able to afford to repay their borrowings.

And that’s what I mean by a crisis of character. Surely we should do what we think and/or know to be right? Someone of good character stands up for what’s right, even if it means risking the prospect of being, dare I say, unpopular!

Now that sounds pretty simple but in reality, it’s far from easy. We all, on occasion, drink too much, say something mean about another person, eat food that’s low in nutrition, and complain despite our good circumstances even when we know it’s not the right thing to do. Peer group pressure, corporate culture, investor expectations, blind positivity combined with denial of reality all made it difficult for some people to see what was really going on and even more importantly, to behave in a way that would be considered appropriate.

In my work with leaders and managers I frequently talk about a construct I’ve come to refer to as ‘behavioural integrity’ by which I mean the ability to act in a way that’s consistent with one’s core beliefs. Having beliefs is important but acting in accordance with these beliefs is what leads to true happiness and success in life. This is what great people, and especially great leaders, do (even more so during difficult times) and this is what one could argue was lacking from our responses in the lead-up to the GFC (you know something’s pretty serious when it gets its own three letter acronym!).

I don’t write this to judge others; I’ve made more than enough of my own mistakes to throw stones in this glass house. But I do write this to encourage you all to reflect upon a few key questions (key questions that I ask many of the executives and clients I coach):

  • What do you believe in?
  • What’s really important in your life?
  • How would you like to be remembered?

And now for the really big one…

  • Are you living a life that’s consistent with your beliefs and priorities and if not, how can you?


Dr. Sharp’s latest book (out now) is ‘100 Ways to Happiness: a Guide for Busy People’ (Penguin). You can find out more about corporate programs, presentations and coaching services at and You can also ask him questions using the comments panel below.

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