The Power of One

Anton Colella | January 26, 2016 |

Available Languages: English | Spanish

Since the global financial crisis, the public’s trust in business institutions has been severely eroded, and it shows little sign of coming back in a hurry.

I don’t believe most people going into business do so with the idea of acting unethically, but there is a great deal of public skepticism to overcome. It is important that we look for ways to restore that trust, and that it is seen to be justified.

In recent years, the response to corporate or institutional failure has often been to call for, and indeed introduce, more regulation. Clearly, there’s a place for good, effective regulation, but on its own that is not enough. Ultimately, every corporate failure has its roots in a personal failure, on the part of one or more individuals, to take the right course.

We feel it is not right to focus on regulations and rules to the extent that you are in danger of losing sight of the principles that underpin them. That’s why ICAS launched a major initiative, under the heading “The Power of One”, to support our members in ethical leadership.

Above all, we are looking to raise awareness of the key role of personal responsibility in business ethics. It’s about the ability of the individual to stand up and make a difference: “The Power of One”.

We are reminding our 21,000 members around the world that it is their professional duty to take personal responsibility and to do the right thing, especially when they encounter dubious or unethical behavior. We are also providing new resources and support for members on ethical issues, including a series of papers on the concepts and practice of business ethics, and adding to our stock of practical case studies based on real-life ethical dilemmas.

It is often a very lonely position for an individual to stand up against unethical behavior. “The Power of One” aims to show business men and women who confront unethical behavior that they are not alone—thousands of Chartered Accountants around the world stand behind them, and indeed expect their colleagues to stand up and be counted. Quite simply, the influence and impact of the ethical leadership displayed by one individual will be supported, galvanized, and encouraged through “The Power of Many!”

The Power of One is not about rewriting the rulebook, or reinventing professional ethics. I have confidence that our members’ values are sound; the issue is how can we help them to live up to those values in situations that, frankly, can be very difficult to confront. That brings in another key element of our initiative: “moral courage”.

ICAS currently espouses the five stated fundamental ethical principles which are contained in the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants® Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants:

  • objectivity;
  • confidentiality;
  • integrity;
  • professional competence and due care; and
  • professional behavior.

We are now consulting on the addition of a sixth principle—moral courage—as well as proposed amendments to three of the existing principles.

What is “moral courage”? As our discussion paper puts it: “moral courage” entails “…fortitude and determination to exert professional skepticism, to challenge others who are behaving inappropriately, and to resist the exploitation of professional opportunity for private benefit rather than the public interest.”

In many ways it is moral courage that underpins the other five ethical principles.

ICAS has published two documents already in The Power of One series, Personal Responsibility and Ethical Leadership and Courage.

We have now also created an Ethics Board, which will report directly to the council of ICAS, to put this initiative at the very heart of ICAS and its strategic direction, and we have asked one of our most senior and respected business leaders, Norman Murray, CA, to be its chair. 

The Power of One is a new initiative, but professional ethics and the concept of “the public interest” have been central to the values of ICAS, the first ever body of Chartered Accountants, from its earliest origins.

Our founders adopted the motto “Quaere Verum”—that is, “seek the truth”—and this remains as relevant for ICAS and its members now as it was then.

As part of the refurbishment of our headquarters in Edinburgh, we have now inscribed “Quaere Verum” and its English translation at the entrance. With this initiative, quite literally, we have set our values in stone.

 

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Anton Colella

IFAC Board Technical Advisor for Michael Hathorn

Anton Colella became chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland (ICAS) in October 2006. Previously he was the chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), from December 2003 to October 2006, following a period as director of qualifications.Mr. Colella was elected chair of the Global Accounting Alliance (GAA) in November 2011. He is a Council member of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland (CBI) and a trustee of Columba 1400, an award-winning social enterprise and charity to help young people realize their potential. Mr. Colella is also chair of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, an independent educational charity representing over 70 member schools in Scotland.Mr. Colella received an honorary doctorate from BPP University in 2014, became an honorary professor of education at the University of Glasgow in 2012, and joined the University’s Adam Smith Business School Strategic Advisory Board in 2011.A graduate of the University of Stirling, Mr. Colella’s career began as a teacher of religious education. Before joining the SQA, he was depute head teacher at St. Margaret Mary’s Secondary School in Glasgow. 

 

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