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You: Ethics Czar

Posted Apr 09 2009 7:14pm

Why not?  If not you, who?  Bruce Weinstein, Phd., emailed me about an article he had written for Business Week titled We Need An Ethics Czar.  You can, and I hope you will, read it here.   I'll paraphrase and build off of it, but go check out the entire article yourself.
    Why should you be an ethics czar?  First, if you have accepted a leadership role you are in a position to set standards.  Make them high quality and live them.  Everyone should see themselves as leaders in what they are doing.  If you are in a management position, you should inspire that in those you lead.  There is no honor in riding reign over a group of people who need you to dictate their every move.  A good leader gives others confidence and as you read the article you will see that's true.  So here are Dr. Weinstein's code of conduct for ethics czars.

  1. Lead by example - always be honest, even if it's a hard truth.  React to stressful situations with compassion rather than hostility.  Own your mistakes, don't blame others.  I think we often act like things are ok when they are not and then feel angry at staff for not seeing what we need them to do or change.  Pent up frustration leads to hostility and before we know it blame.  Better to sit down with a staff member and be honest, listen and find solutions and build a better relationship.  On the flip side, if you are the person who is hearing a hard truth, be big enough to understand that someone is trying to help you succeed and listen and try to find a better way.
  2. Praise generously - we forget sometimes that people need to hear they are doing a good job.  I once worked for someone who could not give praise, or wouldn't.  I give a lot in my job and I like to hear that I'm doing good.  A consultant told me that it was needy of me to want that.  If that's true than human beings are a needy lot.  People will work harder and better when they get verbal feedback.  Sometimes the opportunity is missed or the need is not noticed.  I recently had a staff member email me about a mistake I didn't know they'd made yet.  She said it kept her awake all night.  My response was never to lose a night's sleep over something like that.  We will fix it.  It did give me the opportunity to tell her that I admired her dedication and hard work though.  We don't always know the heart's of our employees and I think that often, care more than we think they do.
  3. Criticize to build up, not break down - this is a biggie.  No one comes to work hoping to do a bad job.  Some might come just to get through the day and collect a paycheck, but that's where your ability to inspire can make the difference.  Shaming generates resentment, teaching inspires gratitude and respect.  So, you choose, do you want to walk away from someone who is fantasizing a horrible, slow death for you, or would you rather they are filled with a nice warm feeling about what a great person you are? 
  4. Be Kind, Unwind - often we find ourselves trying to pull more and more effort out of our employees.  We need to remember to spend time building celebrations and lighter moments into the days and weeks.  Pay attention to birthdays and special days and celebrate them.  Take the staff to lunch  or make lunch and bring it in, just to say thanks.  Now, here's the tough one for many of us.  Take time to relax, youself.  I know that I will become tense if I don't find time for outside interests.  There comes a point when you have to turn out the light and believe that you will have another shot at it all tomorrow.  Now, go home a live the other parts of your life. 
  5. Punish fairly - make sure that you take any emotion out of it when discussing a mistake or problem with an employee.  One thing that my boss is good at considering is intention.  Many times errors are not a matter of intention.  Sometimes people just don't have as good an ability to think on their feet or prioritize as we'd like them to have.  They aren't bad, insolent or insubordinate, they're just different than you.  Teach them and work with them and try to show them how to do what you want them to do.  Be objective.  Now, if there is a matter of poor behavior, deal with it in a way that reflects the punishment that fits the behavior and be consistent - 'this is what happens when anyone does this' and make it the same for everyone.
  6. If it's to be, it's up to thee - step up to problems and deal with them.  Don't avoid awkward or uncomfortable situations.  Set standards and stand up for them.  Often, others are counting on you to do that and are relieved that you will. 

    If you want an ethical workplace, build one.  If you want an ethical world, work for it.  It starts with you.  And me. And her, and him and them.  Spread the word, that's a start in itself.

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