I recently read a New York Times article that discussed the behind the scenes look of shocking misconduct and mistreatment of employees by Kayne West/Ye at Adidas This went on for ten years while the leadership team focused on the expansion of company profits. Despite the fact that the contract had a clause allowing Adidas to end the agreement if West’s behavior harmed the company’s reputation, it is unknown if executives ever considered invoking it before terminating the deal in 2022 after many years of partnership, and after both sides had made billions of dollars.

Some of the most deplorable findings from the article were:

  • West would draw swastikas on designer’s sketches and later told a Jewish Adidas manager to kiss a portrait of Hitler everyday.
  • He would ambush meetings by making Adidas executives watch pornographic films.
  • Staff members reported to top executives that West had made angry, sexually offensive comments to them.
  • His behavior in meetings was unpredictable with tears, fury, rage and throwing shoes around meeting rooms.

Yet, instead of Adidas ending the agreement, it seemed they turned their heads the other way and just rotated their employees who worked on West/Ye’s brand of Yeezy’s to not have too much abuse on one particular group. Perhaps they thought a little bit of awful abuse spread amongst a greater number of people would be more beneficial and keep the revenue rolling in.

While the above story may feel horrific, I would bet a high percentage of people reading this can relate. I have had my own stories throughout the years in my career.

These things are happening all around us. Perhaps we cannot control another person’s behavior; however, where we do have control is deciding what we want to do as leaders when confronted with these situations.

When I was 23 years old, I worked for a well-known company and had a high school intern who reported into me. She came to me one day and told me she had a meeting with the head of Human Resources but didn’t want to go. I asked her why. She said he told all the of the high school interns that he was a photographer and scheduled time to take photos of each of them and would put the photos in his album. I was young and innocent myself, but I felt nauseous by the thought of an older man using his power and asking such a thing from teenage girls. I told her to tell him she couldn’t make the appointment and if he had an issue with it, he could talk to me. Well, he did. He waited until my manager was on a business trip and then came into the office and literally, physically cornered me and threatened me. I was terrified, yet somehow I stood my ground. When my boss returned, I told her what had transpired and she said to keep my mouth shut if I cared about my job. My intern never had to take those photos but many other interns in other departments of the company had to endure that shame. I did right by my intern, but not for the rest of the interns. I trusted my boss, so I listened to her. Today, I wish had said something – but to whom, when it’s the head of HR that is the culprit?

I have many stories I could share – some where I did the stand-up thing and others where I regret not taking action.

We always have choices. The question is: Can you sleep when you put your head down on your pillow at night if you witness or experience actions that lack integrity and that go against your company’s or your own values?

When I could not sleep or live with the choice of not doing something, I knew I needed to take action – even if it meant having consequences. These are difficult decisions to make. They are not cut and dry or black and white – there are massive gray areas.

So, what do you? Here are six ways you can start to build your leadership character so you are able to handle unexpected situations in your career journey:

  1. Know exactly who you are as a leader. If you haven’t determined that yet, this is a good place to start. What are the five to ten top qualities that you want your legacy to be? Start acting from those qualities and the behaviors that support those qualities on a daily basis.
  2. Lead by example.Your team, your colleagues and even your manager will start to emulate your high value behaviors when you are true to them and display them often, regardless of your position in your organization.
  3. Don’t allow lack of integrity to be swept under the rug. Encourage open dialog with others who are noticing or experiencing the same things. There is power and safety in numbers.
  4. Be a psychologically safe space for others. Once others feel this, they may come to you with their own observations and solutions.
  5. Have a strong support system. Utilize the benefits that your organization provides for its employees. Don’t hesitate to call the Employee Assistance hotline or utilize free legal assistance. I called for legal assistance once, and the attorney listened, did some research and came back with a great plan of action. It allowed me to be true to myself while also not needing to storm the castle and take the company down in flames.
  6. Know when to walk away. Not every situation is going to be resolvable. Not all employees will have your back. Many times it becomes each man or woman for him or herself. You will find that people are about self-preservation. Know that this is OK. They have their own choices to make, as well. Sometimes to sleep at night, you may need to part ways with your organization and find your own tribe.

Here is the most important thing to remember: If something doesn’t feel right, you need to take action. Take the time you need to do your research, mull things over and decide what to do, but an action is required. Otherwise, you will find yourself with many stress-filled sleepless nights and perhaps regrets for years.

These types of situations and decisions take tremendous courage. They are not easy. I also believe that everyone is a leader, so determining who you are as a leader is an important first step so that you are already prepared for any unforeseen situations that lack integrity. You will have established a strong foundation for who you are.

Go forward with your own sense of leadership – I believe in you! I might just give Adidas a jingle to see if they would like to discuss bringing a transformation of courage to their leadership team through Executive Coaching…

joanne newborn
Joanne Newborn is CEO & Founder of Newborn Evolution LLC. She is an Executive Leadership Coach and Consultant working with Organizations and Dental Practices around the globe. Her Superpower: Interpreting Senior Leadership’s vision and strategy and translating it to achievable goals to ALL levels of an organization from C-Suite to Middle Management to Individual Contributors. She and her team are Transforming Organizations’ Visions into Results through Leadership Coaching,Training and Consulting. Using a unique blend of Eastern & Western Methodologies in her Coaching practice – she combines hardcore Business Strategy with Jungian Theory and Eastern Philosophy. She has Coached clients on every continent with the exception of Antarctica and has her MBA from Penn State, her ACC from the International Coaching Federation, is a DiSC Certified Practitioner and a DEI Certified Coach. She can be seen speaking at conferences on Leadership around the US and at Universities and Colleges. You can connect with Joanne on LinkedIn or visit her website.

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