What Can We Do as Compliance Leaders When a Day is not Our Own?

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Post By: Richard Bistrong

“Helplessness, a sense of danger, fear, anxiety,” those are among a few words that might come to mind when confronting the coronavirus, both personally and professionally. Having the feeling that one is not in control of one’s own environment, health and welfare, is not something we could have foreseen in our lives. And we are living in a crucible that’s not self-inflicted, even if how it spreads might be the result of our individual and collective decisions ahead.

But the coronavirus did bring up two painful memories in my own crucible, and I hope that by sharing them, it might spark and provoke some thoughts as to how we might think of our days, weeks and months ahead. The first was my own experience with an infectious disease, in my case it was MRSA (bacterial), that was contracted while I was incarcerated, and which was left untreated by the Bureau of Prisons (their logic was that I would just contract it again). It took almost two years to get medically cleared after I was released, and what I learned through this battle is that we really can have such an impact on our health, and those around us, by practicing good hygiene.  While I have been MRSA free since 2015, there’s no frequency too great when it comes to thinking about how we interact with a world that, coronavirus aside, is filled with germs and bacteria. As someone who now has a compromised immunity system due to that MRSA infection from over ten years ago, keep challenging yourselves, and then some.

But this pandemic also reminds me of a part of my crucible that was self-inflicted, so to be very clear, the parallel I am drawing here isn’t about hygiene, but relates to being in a situation where some part of our lives are no longer totally in our control.

In 2007 I received a call from my former employer that there were accusations about my conduct and that they wanted me to talk to internal and external investigators. In 2017 my federal probation ended, and my civil rights were restored. In those ten years between I was targeted by prosecutorial authorities in the United States and the United Kingdom, became a long-term cooperator with both of those authorities, including a month of testimony as a cooperating witness,  had to prepare for a criminal sentence, and then walk in and out of prison (where the MRSA outbreak occurred). Again, with the preamble that I am not comparing a pandemic with criminal conduct where there were certainly workable alternatives other than to break the law, the one common touch point that might be helpful is I learned one thing: How to make it through a day, where it’s truly not your own.

The stress of uncertainty, for me, was the worst part. In 2007, knowing that my fate and liberty would someday be decided by a Federal District Court Judge, and that day might be five or six years ahead would have been unimageable. So, I didn’t imagine it: Instead, I focused on what was right before me, and developed some healthy habits so that I wasn’t putting that stress aside, only to have it blindside me in some other form at a future point in time. Accordingly, when I was called in for the internal investigation, I focused on just that- preparing and disclosing. When I got a call from the DOJ  a few months after,  that I was a target of a criminal investigation, same play-book: prepare and disclose; thinking about what might come after the first DOJ meeting would have been an exercise in iterations that would have added massive stress to what was already going to be one of the most stressful days of my life. But that DOJ meeting went well.

Why? Because I only focused on one thing: Telling the DOJ the crimes they knew about and the one’s they didn’t. Same with the UK authorities.  That was all. I did my best not to think ahead, but instead was laser focused on what was the task at hand. At the same time, weather permitting, and I was living in Florida for most of the time, so conditions were optimal, I ran every day. It allowed me to clear my mind for the day ahead and keep me centered on what was right in front of me, as opposed to what was indefinitely ahead.

When law enforcement cooperation began it was the same drill: What was required of me during this period, as part of my plea bargain. I knew that after the cooperation ended, there would be a new stage, testifying in Federal Court as a cooperating witness, but why focus on that chapter when another was right in front of me. And even when I was preparing to enter prison, I wasn’t getting ahead of myself, but I certainly was running a lot more. Instead, I focused on preparing my affairs and loved ones for what would be a fourteen-and-a-half-month absence from family life.

We don’t know what lies ahead. Two weeks ago I was excited about moderating two panels at the SCCE Ethics and Compliance Institute in Amsterdam, being a part of a compliance cross-industry event later that week in Amsterdam, cross-country-skiing in Northern Norway, a ‘Storytellers’ event in Oslo,  and winding down with the OECD Integrity events in Paris. I’ve planned that journey for almost a year, but when I nearly got exposed to the coronavirus a week before in London, I went back to my playbook. What’s right in front of me that needed my focus: health and welfare.

Sure, it was easy to lapse into thinking about all those plane tickets, hotels, etc., not to mention all the time in getting prepared, especially with my co-panelists, and to get upset and frustrated by seeing it all evaporate. But that’s also indicative of our propensity to think too far ahead in times of stress. And when we are emotionally stretched, self-inflicted, pandemic or otherwise, it’s hard to stay focused on one thing. So, let’s give it a try: What’s your day look like today, and how can you stay healthy and keep others safe. As ethics and compliance leaders, people will be looking to us for clarity, guidance and stability. Showing stress and strain, projecting and forecasting into an uncertain future won’t help those who need us the most. Oh, and I’m running a lot again, but on a local high-school track, no gym for me.

 

About the Author:  Richard Bistrong is the CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC, www.richardbistrong.com, an anti-bribery and ethics consultancy. He can be reached via email at richardTbistrong@gmail.com and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn and twitter at @richardbistrong.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for giving me the reminder to do just one day at a time and focus on what needs to be done so that I can keep my sanity. Thank you Carolyn

    • Thank you so much Carolyn for the kind response, and focusing on what we can do to help ourselves, and others, on a daily basis. Wishing you safety and well being. Kind regards, Richard

  2. This is a great article! I have one ready to go too – with a very different take. I would love to learn more about your story – hopefully the Oslo conference turns into a webinar.

  3. Hi Bonnie- Thank you for the note! You are welcome to visit my website referenced at the footer of the post for more information on my background and experience. While I think the Oslo conference will be re-scheduled, I am working with the SCCE on a future webinar. I hope you can join us there! With best regards, Richard

  4. Great article and perspective. Thanks for sharing! I agree, now is a terrific moment to practice non attachment (ie letting go of what was/what we thought “would be”) and being truly present for the aspect of our lives that matter most. Hope all is well with you!

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