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Published: November 19, 2007

 
 

Personal Ethics in the Corporate World

First, although we can argue about what causes certain leaders to cross the line, followers clearly play a role in sustaining that direction. And I think our choice as followers is primarily this: Do we want to know? Yet as we become more and more dependent on an organization — financially and for our sense of achievement — it becomes increasingly difficult to let ourselves see. This is why I think it’s so important to actively maintain our base of independence so we can be courageous when the time comes.

Second, I hope we loosen our assumption that the bad guys are somehow a completely different breed. In Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson show how, through the natural process of self-justification, we all have the potential to delude ourselves about the ways we may be causing harm. “Whistle-blower” Sherron Watkins has said that “there’s a little Enron in all of us.” It’s only when we recognize this that we’ll create ways to talk to one another and sort out what we might be missing without rushing to judge and accuse.

Finally, I want to point out that although the resulting regulations, penalties, and controls have been cumbersome, I have heard several stories in which they gave people the support they needed to say “no.” For example, a controller who was asked to sign a forecast she did not feel was accurate said, “No, I don’t think so. I’m not going to go to jail for you guys.”

Author Profiles:


Elizabeth Doty (edoty@worklore.com) is an organizational consultant, a 12-year veteran of the hotel industry, a Harvard MBA, and a “recovering reengineer.” Her firm, WorkLore, applies systems thinking, simulation, and storytelling for clients in manufacturing, high tech, financial services, educational testing, and real estate operations. Her Weblog is http://devilsbargain.wordpress.com/.
  
 
 
 
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Resources

  1. Ira Chaleff, The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders (Berrett-Koehler, 2003): Concrete advice for calling (and re-calling) leaders to their highest purposes. Click here.
  2. Elizabeth Doty, “Personal Ethics in the Corporate World,” s+b Webinar, 10/25/07: The online seminar that generated these questions, and many others; a recording of the event and a PDF of the presentation are available. Click here.
  3. Elizabeth Doty, “Winning the Devil’s Bargain,” s+b, Spring 2007: When the business world compromises an individual’s values, courage and climate can make all the difference. Click here.
  4. Debra E. Meyerson, Tempered Radicals: How Everyday Leaders Inspire Change at Work (Harvard Business School Press, 2003): A practical description of how individuals influence a company’s culture and practices. Click here.
  5. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” s+b, Summer 2006: Breakthroughs in brain research explain how to make organizational transformation succeed. Click here.
  6. Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (Harcourt, 2007): A study of the pervasiveness of self-justification, denial, and rationalization in a variety of settings. Click here.
  7. Winning the Devil’s Bargain Weblog: Elizabeth Doty’s recently launched blog inviting discussion on these topics. Click here.
  8. WorkLore Web site: Elizabeth Doty’s company, with additional resources available. Click here.
 
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