We’ve all seen it in the news, the trusted leader or long-term employee who gets caught doing something unethical.  Suddenly it all goes south and the organization is faced with a public relations nightmare, legal action, or worse.

How does that happen?  How do good leaders and organizations find themselves in such a mess?

It usually boils down to a few key scenarios:

  • Someone thought that the rules don’t apply to them, or that “it really isn’t a big deal”…until it was.
  • Leadership allowed a productive employee or team to “bend the rules” because they produced good results or weren’t comfortable calling out the behavior.
  • There wasn’t oversight or accountability for actions and that resulted in unacceptable behavior occurring, and reoccurring.

The fact is, employees look to their leaders for direction on the expected level of ethics.

Want an ethical organization?  There are several things that you can do:

  1. Document your behavioral expectations. State clearly what activities are allowed and which are not.
  2. Have team conversations about how to handle questionable situations to keep your ethical standards a priority.
  3. Enforce those expectations by addressing ethical issues directly and immediately.
  4. Model the behaviors you expect from others by not engaging in activities that may be perceived as being unethical.
  5. Encourage your employees to report concerns early, while they are still developing, before they become big issues.
  6. Trust, but validate to ensure that your expectations are being met.

One of the challenging expectations of being an ethical leader is holding others accountable for actions or statements that may blur the line, even if they don’t cross it.  Nobody wants to be the spoilsport but, at the end of the day, if the leader doesn’t address Bob’s off color joke in a meeting, others will assume he/she condones it.  From there it’s a slippery slope.

This is not a fun part of being a leader, but it is one of the most important.

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