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When is Cheating not Cheating – The AFL Affairs



The announcement of the forced resignations of two senior AFL executives for having extra marital affairs is creating a lot of debate.  Even my article on why Gill couldn't ignore the issue has generated lots of interesting responses.


What I find stunning though is that there is little discussion about the acts of deception and collusion in terms of their corrosive effects on trust in their respective teams and the broader organisation.


Let me be clear.  It’s not the affairs themselves that are the problem per se.  To argue from that viewpoint would require one to take a moral position on extra marital affairs.   I’ll leave that to the church.


Instead it's the web of actions, decisions and behaviours that are required to support the affairs that are a potential problem for the CEO and the Board.  This is the issue that requires some further examination.


It’s reasonable to start with the assumption that these AFL executives and the individuals that they had their affairs with could only have done so for a sustained period of time by building and maintaining a raft of deceptions and lies with their partners at home and their work mates.  You can just imagine some of them – “sorry darling, have to work late again”.  “No, he’s just a friend“ and so on.


Meanwhile, in the workplace the gossip and rumors abound.  Many people know or suspect what’s going on, and it soon becomes the lens through which others interpret organisational decisions and individual actions aka “she only got the promotion because ….” or “she’s just using him to get to the top”. 


If you stop for a moment and think about the effect on trust, you inevitably see how these patterns of deceptive behavior can leave others wondering how trustworthy their team mates are.  If they can cheat on their partner and tell lies so easily, how can I trust them or their words?


There’s also potentially a values issue.  Most organisations have stated values that relate to integrity and trust.   The AFL have one called “Play Fair”. I wonder how deception and lies fit that particular value?  Or how helpful is it to cultivating a Fair Play value when others believe that some are getting a leg up in the organisation because they are getting a leg up? (I know, poor taste joke).


Inevitably, once the CEO becomes aware of the affairs, the deceptions, and the organizational values being compromised there are only two options:  Either ignore it and in doing so condone it as an acceptable code of behavior or call it out and act decisively.


Sport is supposed to abhor cheating of any sort.  How do you create a culture of trust and honesty when you condone or ignore cheating in any form?  For affairs to flourish there must be deception and lies.  Are they behaviours that you would want alive in your executive team, or your organisation?



*Photo credit Robert Prezioso / Getty Images