Posted by: nuleadership | October 10, 2011

Sustaining Ethical Behavior

Americans are increasingly worried and cynical of today’s leaders. Traditional institutions are losing favor, leaving citizens unable to trust their neighbors, churches, and government.

Additionally, America has a history of unethical behavior by leaders. The private sector has been riddled with tons of examples (i.e. Enron, Exxon, etc.) of unethical behavior on Wall Street. Furthermore, political parties market family values and personal integrity like they are selling used automobiles.

In the quest for power and their own personal ambition, many government officials have been drawn to deadly vices that have led to their personal self-destruction. Graham Tomblin, The Seven Deadly Sins, notes this natural selfish behavior has destroyed families, friendships, happiness, and peace of mind.

These moral break downs can seep into other factions of the political landscape. For example, in 1998, the media reported the sexual exploits of Democratic President Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky. However, political scandals are nothing new for the federal government. During the months of May to August of 2007, Republican President Ronald Reagan’s administration was suspected of trading weapons for hostages in the Iran-Contra hearings.

This topic explores the American political environment and how amoral behavior associated with ‘seven-deadly sins’ impact contemporary organizational culture.   For this discussion, we evaluate Congressman Mark Foley’s scandal. Foley was a Florida congressman, who was reported to have sent sexually explicit emails to male pages who were high school students.

He abruptly resigned on September 29, 2006, which set-off a political landmine. House Republicans had to do damage control, whileDemocrats went on the attack. Some Democrats claimed that some House leaders knew for months of Foley’s inappropriate behavior. House SpeakerDennis Hastert found himself on the political hot seat. Hastert declared he knew nothing about Foley’s actions, but others disagreed with his proclamation. Hastert continued his claim of innocence as he asked the JusticeDepartment to investigate this matter.

Because of Foley’s resignation, he couldn’t be punished by his peers. Foley also apologized publicly, sought treatment for his alcoholic addicted, and pointed to a childhood abuse experience by a priest as a cause of his problem. Once again, Americans were asked to address another ethical issue among government officials.

In many cases, unethical decisions made by individuals who allow their ethical principles to influence their decision-making, led to laws being broken or the compromise of organizational values.  Moral principles, values, or beliefs about what is “right” or “wrong” are known as ethics.

Consequently, individuals who make decisions outside of the organization’s values sustain their moral principles internally. Ethics and organizational culture can impact the success of an organization. In fact, ethical behavior is directly related to culture.  

In the long-term, unethical behavior impacts an organizations ability to function effectively.  Employees watch what leaders do more than what they say.  Therefore, organizations that want to sustain future success must pay attention to their ethical behavior, at all levels.

Describe your professional experiences with ethical behavior by executives as well as others in the organization. Discuss what can be done to instill good ethical behavior throughout the organization

© 2011 by Daryl D. Green

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Responses

  1. I have spent most of my life hating politics for the exact reasons that are mentioned in this blog. Everything I can remember throughout my learning experience has been negatively related towards ethical decisions and standpoints of politicians. One of the things that I have seriously debated about with peers and family members are the ways to help eliminate the bad behavior and broken promises of our country leaders. One plan I really agree with is setting a term limit on ALL political offices – not just the presidential seat. If this were the case, all politicians would be able to stop worrying about what will get them elected next time and focus more on the serious issues at hand. I honestly believe that if they are able to stop worrying about upsetting people or losing their voter advantage in the polls, they would be able to take on serious issues that we need fixed in our country. Our politicians need to refocus their ethical standpoint, and make the best decisions for the U.S.A.!

    • Hi Lindsey,

      Good points!

      However, do you really think term limits can stop people who desire to act unethically?
      In order to gain more power, wouldn’t someone come up with another way to game the system?

      Professor Green

    • Hi Lindsey,

      You know, I am just wondering if ethical standards and expectations from leaders are just pipe dreams…all smoke and mirrors, sort of like the gun laws are? Do gun laws REALLY keep bad guys from getting their hands on them…”No!” So do we really think that laws about ethics are going to keep people ethical? I do not know the answer. I am just thinking out loud and wondering if the punishment should be more severe to keep people more ethical? It seems that as cities and organizations have grown larger it is easier for unethical people to operate under the radar.
      Maybe the answer is much more complicated than what it appears on the surface. If we started teaching ethical behavior to children at a very young age and this is all they knew, would this make a difference?

    • Right on Lindsey!
      Even if we cant assure with certainty that we have elected an ethical and moral political figure, we can avoid propagating the behavior over concurrent terms. Although its a catch 22, if we were to elect an outstanding official and limit his terms. Nonetheless, with the state of congressional ineptness, term limits seem to be the best answer.

      • Phil,
        Interesting proposition with term limits! Don’t you think unethical people find other ways to manipulate the system?

        Is there a way to create a check and balance system for sustainable ethical behavior…or not?

        Professor Green

  2. It seems like there are always ethical issues present in any organization, whether it be the government or a business. This is something that can’t really be changed, because there will always be some kind of ethical dilemma concerning leaders. It is true that I tend to watch what my supervisor does, more than what they say, because I guess actions do speak louder than words. A supervisor that is able to remain ethical, is easier for me to respect, and I want to do the best I can to impress my supervisor if I respect them.

    • I agree with you, Zachary. There are always those who like to bend the rules or those who think they are above the law of the government or corporate society. I feel that will always be the case, because there is not a 100% guaranteed fix for the problem. Ethical leaders are harder to come by these days, not because they can’t be found, but rather that people are under the microscope more than ever before. It goes back to my first thought about someone doing something one time to bend the rules, if someone does something even that one time, they are more likely to get caught than ever before. Ethical leaders that have a great track record are few and far in between and are highly sought after. The more ethics one has, the easier it is to be a follower of that person.

  3. “Like profits, shareholder value, return on investment, or any
    other desired performance outcome, ethical behavior
    in business is something to be created. Executives
    must accept their leadership responsibilities
    to define ethical behavior clearly into a firm’s
    value system and to pursue it relentlessly as a
    top-priority goal.” The business realm is finally realizing that one can’t take it for granted that a leader is going to act ethically by nature, just like the Catholic Church has found out that not all priests are ethical by nature. Organizational expectations must be written, established, and exercised as a top company priority. Just like any rules or societal laws, they have to be in place to try to keep most of the people in compliance, most of the time.

    Thomas, T., Schermerhorn, J. R., Dienhart, J. W., Academy of Management Strategic Leadership of Ethical Behavior in Business, home.sandiego.edu/~pavett/docs/msgl…/leader_ethic_behave.pdf,
    Executive, 2004, Vol. 18, No. 2

    • Heidi,

      Good points!

      So….do we just give up on ethical leaders?

  4. Ethical behavior, I think, is a constant working process for it is human nature to often seek the easy way out of problems, which often implies unethical behavior. Even the most ethical individuals have to constantly remind themselves of what is right or wrong and of the possible consequences of their choices. Luckily, the executives at the organizations that I have worked at have not behaved blatantly unethically to my knowledge. Still, I know that they may have had their lapses in judgment as this is common human nature.
    As some of my classmates have stated, I think that the best way to instill good ethical behavior by the higher ups in their organizations is through personal role modeling. There is great power in “practicing what you preach” as some may say, and leaders who exemplify respectable ethical behaviors earn the right to be respected and to be emulated.

    • Miguel,

      Excellent! Now, we are getting deeper.

      It is our inner nature to ‘look for the easy way out.” Ethics change over time for societies.
      No individuals grows up the same. Therefore, our values are shaped by many things such as our parents, teachers, etc.

      Yet, some of the best organizations have developed corporate cultures that promote certain values, such as integrity and hardwork.

      How does that happen for some organizations and not the rest?

      Professor Green

      • Dr. Green, you make an excellent point to which I have not a good answer for. The one thing I have notice though is that, corporations that have strong leadership at most levels seem to enjoy a more productive and nurturing corporate culture. The culture in an organization is developed over time and with adjustments as needed to stay true to the corporate mission statement and goals. Still, it think it should be established from top down and directed by strong leadership.

  5. Fortunately, I have not worked in a place where an executive has been unethical – at least that I kow of. Ethics and ethical behavior are the lynchpin to being successful in business and life in general. My grandfather told me multiple times – the measure of someone’s character is, when faced with a decision, what they do when no one is watching them. Politics is one of those areas of today’s societies that is frought with unethical behavior. One only needs to look at the headlines to find many examples. In business however, there seems to be a different set of “values” than those in society as a whole. As you say in Miguel’s comment, many corporations have found a way to be successful and still be a good corporate citizen. I believe that any corporation with the proper leadership can become successful and a good corporate citizen. Some, perhaps, just need better guiding principles and the people to carry out their plans.

    • Michael,
      I agree with your grandfather that the measure of an individual’s true character occurs when they feel that no one else is looking. Often in the presence of their peers a person will make a decision good or bad in order appease the masses, however; their action if faced the same decision under private surroundings would be total different.
      The problem with finding ethical leaders is that their ethical beliefs are engrained over time starting at childhood and then influenced by family, friends, and religion. These influences set the gridlines for how they will determine what is right or wrong, just or unjust, and the fairness of a situation when making decisions.
      When electing or appointing our leaders we often only have historical information on how they have made public decisions, however; we do not know how or what will influence their decisions in private. Another point to consider is that leadership by nature often provides or provokes a since of power to or in the individual. How they deal with this new status often dictates their ethical behavior. Too often great leaders have allowed the new privilege of power to erode their ethical decision making ability.

      • Frank,
        Excellent points!

        Professor Green

  6. The framework of instilling and regulating ethical framework is essentially futile, as peoples motivations are going to drive their decisions if they are predisposed to environmental factors and those individuals have the propensity to act immoral. While corporate governance and accountability measures are inherent in discouraging this type of behavior, people find loopholes or measures are not enforced. Additionally, it can also be argued that people are not inherently unethical but corporate pressures to succeed drive immoral and unethical behaviors to take place. In an article by Lindsay, it is stated “based on data from 10 studies, it concluded that ‘even the most upright people are apt to become dishonest… when placed in a typical corporate environment'”. I believe that a mixture of corporate governance and fostering an environment of “buying in” to meeting corporate goals to the best of their abilities, should dissuade unethical practices, although the expectation should never be 100%.

    Lindsay, R., Lindsay, L. M., & Irvine, V. (1996). Instilling Ethical Behavior in Organizations: A Survey of Canadian Companies. Journal of Business Ethics, 15(4), 393-407. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

  7. I was an engineer for Halliburton about five years ago in the drilling and exploration department. Needless to say, there was controversy during the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom in regards to the awarding of “no bid” contracts. This was on the transportation side of Halliburton (KBR), but few make the differentiation. Dick Cheney, who stepped down as Halliburton CEO to run for Vice President, was implicated in secret “no bid” army contracts reportedly worth up to $1 billion. The political unrest was further exacerbated by Dick Cheney’s continuing to receive monies as annual payment for his past duties as CEO, but he claimed no financial interest in the success of the company. This is to say that even if Halliburton were more profitable, his financial stake would not change. Better transparency could have aided in calming the abruptness of these allegations, and could have led to less opposition.

    Naughton, K., & Hirsh, M. (2003). Fanning the Flames: Cheney’s Halliburton Ties. Newsweek, 141(14), 6. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

    • Champ,

      Excellent!
      So…you were an insider for Halliburton during former VP Dick Cheney’s time as CEO? Interesting!

      How important is transparency in organizations to build ethical behavior and trust?

      Professor Green

  8. Companies should have code of ethics / conduct in their organizational culture, then it is very important that they ensure that their managers and employees know how to deal with ethical issues in their work environment. Surely, executives have to be the first to demonstrate ethics, moral, and reinforce it through their work and examples. Whatever managers do will have a big impact on employees’ behavior, motivation, and performance. Luckily, I did not have big issues related with unethical behavior in a work place, however in order to avoid unethical issues the best thing is to have an open and clear communication among managers and employees.
    To improve organization ethical behavior “first, chief executives should encourage ethical consciousness in their organizations from the top down showing the support and care about ethical practices. Second, formal processes should be used to support and reinforce ethical behavior. Finally, it is recommended that the philosophies of top managers as well as immediate supervisors focus on the institutionalization of ethical norms and practices that are incorporated into all organizational levels.”

    Sims, Ronald R. (Jul. 1992). The challenge of ethical behavior in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 11 (7). Retrieve from http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~danielp/soc/sims.htm.

  9. Companies should have code of ethics / conduct in their organizational culture, then it is very important that they ensure that their managers and employees know how to deal with ethical issues in their work environment. Surely, executives have to be the first to demonstrate ethics, moral, and reinforce it through their work and examples. Whatever managers do will have a big impact on employees’ behavior, motivation, and performance. Luckily, I did not have big issues related with unethical behavior in a work place, however in order to avoid unethical issues the best thing is to have an open and clear communication among managers and employees.

    To improve organization ethical behavior “first, chief executives should encourage ethical consciousness in their organizations from the top down showing the support and care about ethical practices. Second, formal processes should be used to support and reinforce ethical behavior. Finally, it is recommended that the philosophies of top managers as well as immediate supervisors focus on the institutionalization of ethical norms and practices that are incorporated into all organizational levels.”

    Sims, Ronald R. (Jul. 1992). The challenge of ethical behavior in organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 11 (7). Retrieve from http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~danielp/soc/sims.htm.

    • I agree that Chief Executives should set the culture for the organization. However, what should one do when the Chief is unethical in dealing with others and/or employees? According to Ketteringham, if you find that your boss is unethical one should “Write down everything and be specific. You need documentation. Have names, dates, actions and any other supporting evidence you can get your hands on. Compose a business-like letter that details what you know using concise, neutral words” (Ketteringham, 2008). If for no other reason than to save yourself from being an accomplice or to use in the event of a lawsuit for unlawful firing. It is so easy to just take a job without knowing the culture of the organization, but that is our time to actually interview the interviewee. Ask questions, google and research the company if you can before coming on board.

      Ketteringham, Kristin. (Aug. 2008). How to Deal with an Unethical Boss. Retrieved October 15, 2011 from Associated Content : http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/911837/how_to_deal_with_an_unethical_boss_pg2.html?cat=3.

    • Maria,

      Interesting!
      Do you know of companies that don’t have ethical codes today?

      Professor Green

  10. Ethics are a set of beliefs held by an individual that guide a person’s behavior and decisions when he/she is acting individually or within a group. They determine what is right or wrong, just or unjust, and the fairness of a situation. Ethics are engrained in a person from childhood and are influenced by one’s family, friends, religion, and internal beliefs. They vary from person to person and are an essential key to success in business practices (Steiner, Steiner &, 2008).
    Unfortunately, when dealing with business ethics, it is most often bad ethical decisions that are deemed newsworthy. When an individual or corporation does not make an ethical decision such as the catastrophic mistakes of Bernie Madoff or Enron, they are plastered across the front page of every major news outlet in America. However, if one tries to find a positive story on business ethics, it is much more challenging to accomplish. For example the drug company Merck made the decision to lose billions of dollars in order to make the ethical choice to help people in thirty seven different countries to eradicate Onchocerciasis, better known as river blindness. The company chose humanity over profit, but this story has not been widely reported in the media (Steiner, Steiner &, 2008).
    I was raised in a family with an agricultural background. My parents had a small farm and I was expected to work with them at various chores from an early age. This showed me from childhood the value of hard work and reaping the rewards of that work. My family was also Southern Baptists and my father instilled honesty and the Golden Rule into my upbringing from birth. We helped those around us that needed help and treated others the way we wanted to be treated. I believe these lessons had a profound effect on the ethics I hold today.
    In my professional life, I try to fall onto my father’s early teachings of hard work, honesty, and the Golden Rule. I am straightforward with my coworkers even when it is tough to do so. I treat those around me with respect even when it may not be reciprocated. I make business decisions based on honesty and with the knowledge that my superiors and my conscious are trusting in me to do the right thing. As an engineer, I also am guided by a code of conduct to not intentionally harm others and to try to better humanity by the things I may help to create through my work (“Code of Ethics for Engineers,” 2003).
    There is no defined rule of ethical behavior as long as one’s actions are not against the law. Ethics also are varied from person to person and country to country. However, if we all followed the Golden Rule, we might be a little more ethical in all of our personal and business decisions.

    References

    Editorial: Bernie Madoff’s lesson [Editorial]. (2009, June 30). Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City). Retrieved from http://www.allbusiness.com/crime-law-enforcement-corrections/criminal-offenses/14453732-1.html

    Code of Ethics for Engineers. (2003, January 1). Retrieved from http://www.jenmdse.net/MSE/pd/NSPECodeofEthics.pdf

    Curse of the Ethical Executive. (2001, November 17). Economist.

    Griffin, R. W. (1993). Management. Geneva: Houghton Mifflin.

    MOFID, K. (2003). Business Ethics. London: Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd.

    Pellet, J. (2008, September 1). Business and social contribution; How do you balance social responsibility and shareholder interests?hareholder interests? Chief Executive. Retrieved from http://www.allbusiness.com/company-activities-management/business-ethics/11683315-1.html

    Steiner, J. F., Steiner, G. A., &. (2008). Business,Goverment, and Society: A Managerial Perspective. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

  11. While working as an Assistant Manager of a hotel, there were numerous occasions that the owner wanted us, the General Manager and myself, to cover up room revenue so that franchise fees would not be processed. Each time, we both were in agreement to not do this and told him so to his face, along with using the wording illegal. I have wondered how a prominent, Christian businessman could do this, and I realize that his sin was being tempted by greed. It took strong employees to stand up to him and admonish him for his orders. According to Trevino and Brown “Much unethical conduct is the result not just of bad apples but of neglectful leadership and organizational cultures
    that send mixed messages about what is important and what is expected” (Trevino and Brown, 2004). It is important that the leadership be mindful and lead ethically in order to set the culture of the organization itself.

    Works Cited
    Trevino, L. K., & Brown, M. E. (2004). Managing to be ethical: Debunking five business ethics myths. Retrieved October 15, 2011, from Academy of Management Executives: http://www-biz.aum.edu/kevinbanning/ethics.pdf

    • Hi Angela,

      I commend you on your ethical stance on the job!!!

      It takes a lot of courage. Character counts, regardless of your religious associations. Since you mentioned Christianity, Jesus often taught against this hypocrisy seen in the religious establishment.

      Professor Green

  12. The ethical issues that have been raised in this blog are not only occurring in the corporate and political arenas but are affecting every aspect of our lives. Recently the University of Tennessee fired one of the most effective coaches the school has seen. For those who followed the Bruce Pearls tenure at Tennessee, it would be easy to argue his effectiveness as leader. He was able to turn a mediocre program at best to a national contender. Though is leadership style shined on the court it appears to have dimmed off the court? Joanne B Ciulla in her book Ethics, the heart of leadership explains that effective leadership consists of complex relationships that are based on trust, commitment, emotions, obligations and a share vision of good. Therefore, those leaders that continually miss the mark on ethical decision are lacking a fundamental quality in being effective leaders, ethics. If we want to see continued success in our country/companies we must continually strive to elect strong ethical leaders.

    Ciulla, J. (2004). Ethics, the heart of leadership. (2nd ed.). Wesport: Praeger Publsihers.

  13. I think we have all witnessed unethical behavior in some form or shape. It seems that unethical behavior has rocked our nation at the core for the past decade or so in both the political and corporate settings. Personally, it blows my mind to think that someone can knowingly commit such an unethical crime while seemingly have no regrets for the people that their decision effects. It is a mystery to me as to whether our nation has lost the foundation to what being ethically sound really is. Sometimes I look at recent scandals and really think if the person that commit the offense really knew what they were doing and whether or not it was wrong.

  14. Ethical behavior, I think, is a constant working process for it is human nature to often seek the easy way out of problems, which often implies unethical behavior. Even the most ethical individuals have to constantly remind themselves of what is right or wrong and of the possible consequences of their choices. Luckily, the executives at the organizations that I have worked at have not behaved blatantly unethically to my knowledge. Still, I know that they may have had their lapses in judgment as this is common human nature.
    As some of my classmates have stated, I think that the best way to instill good ethical behavior by the higher ups in their organizations is through personal role modeling. Gamble and Thomson said it best, “first and foremost, the CEO and other senior executives must set an excellent example in their own ethical behavior, demonstrating character and personal integrity in their actions and decisions” (p. 32). There is great power in “practicing what you preach” as some may say, and leaders who exemplify respectable ethical behaviors earn the right to be respected and to be emulated.

    Gamble, J. E., & Thompson, A. A. (2011). Essentials of strategic management: The quest for competitive advantage. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.


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