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We reported yesterday that fired Wal-Mart advertising executive Julie Roehm, accused by the giant retailer of unethical behavior and even adultery, has done her own share of mud-slinging, charging Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and other executives of a range of violations of the chain’s ethics standards.

We commented: We read all the charges and countercharges, and we have to say that we’re sure Roehm and her lawyers are going to try to get as many Wal-Mart executives as possible to be deposed under oath. Which they are going to do to her as well.

But at this point, Roehm doesn’t have nearly as much to lose as Lee Scott and his fellow executives. After all, she’s already been fired amid charges of infidelity and questionable relationships and payments – none of which is going to shock anyone in the ad biz. We can’t imagine Roehm not getting a job because of all the original charges with any company that thought she could help it.

At Wal-Mart HQ, however, it is a different story. High moral and ethical standards have always sort of been the coin of the realm, and they aren’t supposed to be arbitrary and about positioning – they go back to founder Sam Walton’s basic approach to life and business, and as such are sacrosanct.

Roehm may be shooting at everything that moves without ammunition. But if she’s right on just 25 percent of what she’s charging, then her 42-page document could have enormous implications for the company and its leadership.

At Wal-Mart, management’s noses have to be completely clean, because the numbers haven’t been all that great lately.

MNB user David Livingston responded:

Boring. I get tickets for ball games, dinner bought for me, and even a free trip now and then. But I'm self employed and get to make my own rules.

As for Mr. Scott at Wal-Mart, he is CEO and he should have the authority to apply the ethics rules on employees as he sees fit. If he wants to give someone a waiver or a pass, then so be it. Trying to apply the rules equally on all employees is nonsense. The rules should be used as a guideline. For example, the executive who had an affair with a subordinate. Maybe he was well liked and a rainmaker. Maybe it was in the best interest of the company that this man stay on. Seems Ms. Roehm was not so therefore she cannot expect the same treatment. Believe me, if Ms. Roehm was good for Wal-Mart they would have given her some slack as well. Complaining about it shows a lack of class even if it is justified. If the stockholders don't like it they can vote Mr. Scott out or sell their stock. If the stockholders are willing to put up with it then they can vote to keep him and hold on to their stock.

We cannot say how strongly we disagree with this sentiment.

We believe that in any company or organization, it is senior management’s sacred responsibility not just to adhere to all of the same rules as everyone else, but actually to show greater fidelity to moral and ethical standards. It ought not just be about rainmaking and profits, but about meeting and exceeding standards. Leaders who believe they are immune from the same rules they set for their subordinates are not leaders at all, but simply self-serving, ego-driven managers who have no right to lead anyone or anything.

Sure, society is filled with people who think they don’t have to behave the same way as the people they are supposed to be leading. They can be corporate executives, politicians, priests, military officers, journalists.

And we are tired of all of them. And even more tired of people making excuses for them. It is inexcusable. And intolerable.

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses or forfeits his own self?
KC's View: