Being Ethical Pays: A Conversation with Anil Swarup, Former Secretary of School Education & Literary Secretary of India, Indian Administrative Service
When you as a leader protect your team, you earn their loyalty, create a positive culture, and nurture an environment where people work hard and things get done.
Former Secretary of School Education & Literary Secretary of India, Indian Administrative Service
Leaders can make a huge difference by having integrity and creating the right culture through their actions. People watch leaders closely and often imbibe their values. One important value is protecting and giving credit to team members. If leaders create such a culture, people will look beyond themselves, fight for their buddies, and do more together.
I had taken over as Secretary for Horticulture in Uttar Pradesh, and my Minister was very corrupt. One day, I received an email from the Minister instructing me to suspend one of my officers. This officer was a very honest and efficient person. After investigation, I learnt that the Minister was upset because the officer had not offered him a cash gift. Although the Minister had the lawful authority to suspend officers, I could not allow this fate to befall an innocent person. Making use of an existing bureaucratic process, I routed the file through my Chief Secretary, on the grounds that I disagreed with the Minister, and explained the true situation to him. The Chief Secretary deliberately took no action on the file, and as a result, the officer was not suspended.
Protecting our staff against false accusations is a key example of ethical behaviour. When you as a leader protect your team, you earn their loyalty, create a positive culture, and nurture an environment where people work hard and things get done. Your staff know that you will support them as long as they do no wrong, and that in itself will inspire them to perform better, making your life as a leader easier as well. Being ethical pays.
If an officer has a reputation for honesty and integrity, then others will approach him or her accordingly. In the second half of my career, there was not a single instance where anyone approached me for any wrong purpose or action. That said, ethical behaviour alone is not enough – efficiency and performance are also important. Your capacity to deliver outcomes on the ground is what ultimately builds trust and respect.
Anil Swarup recently retired after a distinguished 38-year career in the Indian Administrative Service, which is comprised of India’s top civil servants. He held key leadership positions, including as School Education and Literacy Secretary of India and Coal Secretary of India. He is the author of two books, “Not Just a Civil Servant” (2019) and “Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant” (2020).
Practitioner Stories are told in the contributor’s own words, speaking in their individual capacity. Their inclusion in the CGGI Website is not an endorsement of the CGGI 2021 methodology or results.