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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Being Right Is Not Enough

If you pay any attention to national news and global affairs, you may have noticed a story about Paul Wolfowitz, the head of the World Bank. Maybe you just skipped past this, because you never heard of Wolfowitz and don't know anything about the World Bank. These things matter to you and me.

The World Bank was created years ago to fight poverty. Chartered by the U.S. government and based in Washington, DC, the firm makes loans and generally aids and assists initiatives to improve the quality of life in developing and third world countries. Many of their initiatives, for example, facilitate infrastructure development (like roads and utilities). The U.S. government is the World Bank's largest single shareholder. The governments of several other countries are its other shareholders.

The story opens a couple of years ago when Paul Wolfowitz was appointed CEO of the World Bank. In his new position, he determined that his romantic involvement with Shaha Riza, a World Bank staffer, could be a conflict of interest. So he took the noble move of using his position (of influence) to help her secure a job outside of World Bank. Her new job, with the U.S. State Department, paid over $60,000 more than her World Bank job.

This all happened in 2005, but just became known now. When the press leaked it, Wolfowitz confessed that what he did was wrong --- and he apologized. The first reaction was from World Bank employees. They staged a protest. They circulated a petition asking for Wolfowitz to resign. They said they felt that he violated fiduciary responsibility that he had to them and to shareholders and other stakeholders of the bank. Wolfowitz conceded, reiterated his apology --- and flat-out refused to step down. U.S. President George Bush then weighed in in support of Wolfowitz, forgiving him and publicly recognizing his leadership in fighting poverty globally. We thought that was the end of it --- until now.

This week, the European Union, which represents several major shareholder countries, renounced Wolfowitz action and asked for his resignation. (See story at Again, Mr. Wolfowitz concedes that what he did was wrong, says he's sorry --- and flatly refuses to resign. It seems the matter will now go to the Board of Directors at World Bank.

Will the World Bank's Board have the courage to ask for Wolfowitz resignation? Will they have the moxy to just fire him if he doesn't? Will they do anything? Anyone who reads my blog or knows me, knows that I am a stickler for using the appropriate criteria to make decisions. There are millions of decisions made every day around the world. Many, many of them are made using the wrong criteria. That troubles me. I believe it's likely to be the case here too.

Many years ago, I took a job in a Fortune 500 company. The company was very successful (and large), but it behaved much like a Dilbert Cartoon. I had a very unique boss at the time. He was supportive and firm. He also had an incredible depth of wisdom. About once a week I'd be on the phone with him or in his office, going on about some stupidity that I'd encountered in my job.

He'd patiently listen to me rant and rave. Then he would quietly respond to me by saying, "Larry, you know, you are absolutely right. Unfortunately, much of the time, being right just isn't enough." Over time, I began to see the wisdom in his perspective. I began to realize that being right (or being wrong) isn't always the right criteria for a decision. I also realized that this is a Biblical point of view too! That particular piece of wisdom has served me quite well in the years since.

The thing is, I don't know whether or not Mr. Wolfowitz should resign or be fired. He may be that he does not deserve to lose his job. He may be right in his assertion that, even though he was wrong, he deserves to be forgiven. He may be right in insisting that he doesn't not deserve to lose his prestigious job. But I can't help but wonder if that is the right criteria to use.

Will Mr. Wolfowitz or his Board consider the fact that the majority of the bank's employees want him out --- having lost faith and confidence in his leadership? Do they consider the fact that more than half of western Europe thinks he should go? Have they listened to the European Union's contention that his poor judgment has damaged the World Bank's credibility? Is it possible, as the Europeans have fretted, that this loss of credibility could hurt the World Bank's ability to raise money for poverty-fighting initiatives in the future?

Like I said, Mr. Wolfowitz, I don't know whether you deserve to lose your job or not. I certainly agree that you deserve to be forgiven. But I have to look at the broader issues here. Not everything is about you, Mr. Wolfowitz. So even though you're right, being right sometimes just isn't enough.

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