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Up For Safety
An Act of Moral Courage

Faced with competing, yet equally valid, stakeholder demands, CEOs increasingly face
paradoxical situations of choosing between right and right.
In The CEO ReportEmbracing the Paradoxes of Leadership and the Power of
Doubt, members of Englands Sad Business School highlight the dramatic changes
that have occurred in society over the years and the implications these changes have
had on leaders.

I found this particular statement to be current, cogent and challenging. It identifies
critical aspects of leadership confronting CEOs in the 21st century. If, as the Report
states, this is the new world, how will leaders find a successful way to make
decisions when faced with right and right situations?

So many choices are to be
Right and Right: Oil and the Bakken Formation
made and the ability to

make those choices,
As I was reflecting on the meaning of the statement, I was
balancing the stakeholders,
balancing the long term
also following news of the recent railcar derailments and
and the short term,
explosions that took place in West Virginia during the
balancing priorities [is
transportation of oil from the Bakken formation in North
Dakota. I realized these are the type of right and right
~ The CEO Report
scenarios The CEO Report was referencing.

Apparently, the oil from Bakken is not like other oilit is more flammable because
of the chemicals used in the extraction process. This increased combustibility in
combination with the following factors probably raised a number of yellow caution
flags for decision makers:

The American Petroleum Institute reported that the chemicals used to
extract the oil are causing damage to the internal surfaces of tanker cars.
The oil boom has led to mile-long trains loaded exclusively with oil,
increasing the probability that any derailment and explosion will be
potentially more catastrophic.
The railcars/tankers currently in use are not rated to store and transport oil
that is highly combustible.
When energy companies started extracting oil from shale formations in
South Texas they invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make the
volatile crude safer to handle. These investments were not made in the

Knowing this, why and how did the leaders of these companies make their decision
to transport the oil, which resulted in derailments, explosions, and injuries? They
were seemingly confronted with a right and right proposition:

Right: Extract and transport a product for the financial benefit of the companies
involved to provide a return on their investments (ROI).


Right: Transport the product in the safest way to minimize and prevent potential
risks, hazards and damages to employees, communities and the environment to
realize a return on safety (ROS), though it will jeopardize the ability to maximize

The fact that three derailments and explosions occurred over a period of several
months, including one that killed 47 residents of a Canadian community, implies
that the right and right decision making process in this situation was actually
either/or, valuing one proposition over the other. Safety was not of equal or
greater value, and therefore decisions were made to proceed with extraction and
transportation without significant regard for the known safety issues.

This is not an isolated situation. We have seen numerous accidents and tragedies
over the years that have resulted in staggering costs to communities and the
environment, and loss of life. Safety, in these tragic incidents, was simply not right

The essential question is: Why is safety still not as right as the other rights? Lets
face itprofits are a powerful right for organizations, which makes it extremely
difficult for safety to compete. However, I believe there is another facet of this issue,
and it has to with the essence of leadership.

Moral Courage

In his book Moral Courage: Taking Action When Your Values Are Put to the Test,
the late Rushworth Kidder frames the issue not as right and right, but right versus

Ethical issues also emerge when two of our core values come into conflict with each
other. When one of our values raises powerful moral arguments for one course of
action, while another value raises equally powerful arguments for an opposite course,
we find we cant do both. Yet we must act. In such cases, ethics is a matter of right
versus right.

There is significant evidence showing the financial return on safety. It has other
benefits too. But as long as safety is in a corporate shareholder contest rather than
framed from an ethical and moral context, it will continue to lose to ROI. And the
consequences will continue to be unnecessary accidents, some of which will rise to
the level of national tragedies.

Courageous leadership is one solution to this dilemma. The CEO Report states,
Many [CEOs] expressed that the continuous quest for balance must be an
aspiration, if not an imperativea matter of moving beyond the choices of either
or, and unlocking the power of both and.

This is achievable if leaders at all levels of an organization recognize that safety is a
moral and ethical responsibility as well as a regulatory and financial issue. In order
to compete fairly with every other right issue, a focus on safety requires leaders
stewardship and moral courage.

We Know the Issue, but What Does It Take?

In Moral Courage, the defining feature of moral courage is standing up for values.
In the defining moments of our lives, writes Kidder, values count for little without
the willingness to put them into practice. Without moral courage, our biggest virtues
rust from lack of use. With it, we build piece by piece a more ethical world. And a
safer world.

Unless corporate boards and leaders genuinely understand and accept that safety is
a moral and ethical issue, it will not be able to withstand the allure and devotion to
profits that corporations retain. Safety only wins when leaders are willing to
demonstrate their moral couragethis is what it takes.

Refocusing your business objectives can seem impossible. Yet, The CEO Report
indicates that leaders need to develop a level of comfort with doubt and understand
that there is power in it. Standing up for safety is being morally courageous. This
type of courage can be developed with time, but it speaks more to attributes than
competencies. Moral Courage identifies five attributes that appear to be common in
people who exhibit moral courage:

Greater confidence in principles than in personalities
High tolerance for ambiguity, exposure and
Never give innever,
personal loss
never, never, never, in
Acceptance of deferred gratification and simple
nothing great or small,
large or petty, never
Independence of thought
give in except to
Formidable persistence and determination
convictions of honour

and good sense.
The world is changing rapidly and the distinctions

between right and wrong are becoming blurred. Leaders
~Winston Churchill
will need to adapt and develop new competencies and
build stronger trust relationships with themselves and
others. They will be confronted more and more by paradoxes and dilemmas and
must learn not to deny their doubt but use it as strength.

Leading will not be easy in this new reality. There are many unknowns, and the

formulas that once worked may become formulas for failure and disasters.
However, there is one issue that leaders can be sure of: Standing up for safety will
always be the right decision. It is the morally courageous thing to do.