Do I encourage ethical behavior in others?

by Sam on June 3, 2009

Analysis: It rests upon leaders to shape the moral fabric of their companies (and their families). They do this by touting high values and, more importantly, by making choices that reveal to employees, customers, shareholders, and the public the character of the company’s soul.

Why do questions of ethics even have to be asked? Why can’t we count on people in positions of responsibility to do the right thing? Why do we see examples these days of malfeasance in both the private and the public sectors? Probably for five reasons.

One, the notions of conditional morality and situational ethics have for some people supplanted the belief that there is a core of moral truth based on the presence of a Higher Power. This rejection of absolutism enables wrongdoers to rationalize and justify unethical or illegal behavior. Two, the pressure from superiors or shareholders for ever better results (e.g., higher profits) lead some decision-makers to search for “creative” ways to produce those results. Three, many leaders who stray from the correct path have been influenced by poor role models at home, in their circle of friends, among their peers, or in the previous or current leadership they’ve received. Four, some companies face a legacy of shortcutting that has birthed a culture of “get it done.” Five, while a company may not have shaped an unethical culture, it may neither have taken a positive stand to create a culture of high integrity by defining clearly what is ethical and holding employees accountable to live that definition.

Answer: Do clients, employees, peers, and superiors see your behavior such that it encourages them to act ethically? If you can shout a resounding “always” to the following questions, the answer is yes. Assess your leadership ethics using the following scale. (Will you have the courage to allow others who observe your leadership to rate you as well?)

0 : Never    1 : Rarely    2 : Sometimes    3 : Often    4 : Almost always    5 : Always

1.   Do I rely on an unwavering core of moral truth to guide my actions?

2.   Do I tell the truth at all times?

3.   Is my word my bond?

4.   Am I scrupulously fair to all concerned in every decision I make?

5.   Am I determined to build goodwill and create better friendships with the people I deal with?

6.   Am I as concerned about the long-term impact as the immediate results of my decisions?

7.   Am I focused on not causing harm to anyone?

8.   Do I obey the law in every respect?

9.   Do I behave in ways that are consistent with the core values of our team or company?

10. Am I willing to leave money on the table in order to act ethically?

11. Can I provide examples of times when it may have been expedient to compromise integrity, but I stood firm?

12. When colleagues or customers look for someone they can trust, am I a top choice?

13. Can I be sure that I am not, even unknowingly, pressuring others to act unethically?

14. Can I be sure that I am not, even unknowingly, rewarding or otherwise enabling others to act unethically?

15. Do I take advantage of every opportunity to promote ethical behavior to my direct reports?

16. Do I hold others accountable to behave ethically?

17. Do our people know what to do if they encounter unethical behavior in the company?

18. Have I communicated a clear code of ethics to the people I influence–one that guides me as well?

For which questions—where you scored a 5—can you hold your head up high? For which questions—where you scored a 4 or lower—will you take immediate action to become a more solid role model?

Next Week: We’ll elaborate on question #18. You’ll be challenged to create your “clear code of ethics.”


People expect leaders to be better human beings than those who chose them. ~H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Approaching: Is there a “coming attraction” on this list that you can’t wait for? Shoot me an email for a sneak preview.

6/10: Do I operate from a clear code of ethics?
6/17: Why do people fight?
6/24: How can I keep fights from breaking out?
7/1: What is the best way to fight?
7/8: When (and how) should I step in to break up a fight?
7/15: What are the most inspiring thoughts about leadership?
7/22: Is “constructive criticism” an oxymoron?
7/29: Who, me—a praise miser?

7/22: Is “constructive criticism” an oxymoron?

Action (yours)

Do you have an Ask for Sam about leadership, team building or communications? Email that question to him at He will respond to you either by email or telephone. Please include your telephone number with your Ask.

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