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Entitlement Issues, Bad Decisions and Fraud

An ex-con shares his thoughts on one of the critical thinking errors that lead to unethical behavior in business and life.

Posted by Dawn Lomer on October 4th, 2011

Every decision has a consequence and the decisions that might lead us to commit workplace fraud are no different from the ones that can wreak havoc in our personal lives. Recognizing the critical thinking errors that lead to those unethical decisions is the key to preventing them, says Patrick Kuhse, a consultant on business ethics and an international speaker with a unique perspective on white collar crime.

Kuhse speaks to business and academic groups on the errors in thinking that lead to bad decisions, using his story as a case study. In his talks, Kuhse outlines his own journey from a life of privilege as a successful stockbroker to his involvement in a financial fraud scheme that led to four years as an international fugitive and eventually to prison. So he has a pretty good basis for his observations about human behavior.

Before his presentation at the SCCE Compliance and Ethics Institute in September, Kuhse took the time to talk to me about his life, the lessons he has learned along the way and how this has spawned a career as an international speaker on ethical decision making.

The Error of Entitlement

One of the major barriers to ethical decision making, says Kuhse, is the issue of entitlement.  “I think that more of us get into trouble when we have entitlement issues than any other thing,” he says. “We think that the world owes us something in exchange for us just ‘being all that’, with no effort on our part, or we calibrate at a higher level than everybody else. So because of that, the world is our oyster and everybody should fall in our path.”

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When Kuhse talks about entitlement to his audiences, he says most people can identify with the topic. “Everybody, from teenagers, to college [students], through the professions, can nod their heads and say ‘yes, I’ve had an entitlement issue recently, or I know plenty of people who have’. So it’s a theme that I build my talk around because it’s so prevalent,” he says. “In Canada, too, by the way,” he adds, acknowledging that my home country isn’t above unethical behavior.

Self Talk Cues

Kuhse provides practical advice for how to recognize when entitlement issues are taking hold. If you are aware of them from the start, you can change your thinking. Something as simple as the use of a word can be a signal that you are starting to think in terms of entitlement.

“Linguistically, when you start changing your self talk from ‘I want something’ to ‘I need” something’, in my opinion you’re sliding in to the entitlement issue,” he says. “That‘s kind of a little trigger that we can catch other people at and have them catch us at,” he says.

By making people aware of the subtle cues that lead to unethical decision making, Kuhse hopes to prevent them from making the thinking errors that took him on his “crazy trip” to prison.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Manager of Communications

Dawn Lomer is the Manager of Communications at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

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