The spooky truth about your ethics

Halloween is all about pretending. But in reality, the greatest danger in life, love, and work is pretending not to know what you know.

Unfortunately, too many people “play pretend,” and keep on “playing pretend,” even if it kills them.

For example, lots of people “play pretend” in life, pretending that televised sex and violent video games — aimed at kids — won’t make any difference — when everyone can see that it does.

Other people “play pretend” in love, pretending everything is okay in their relationship, even though they seldom have time to talk deeply, share a meal, or even be intimate with one another. They pretend that a small amount of quality time is just as good as a quantity of time together, even though every research study indicates that’s a myth.

Still, other people “play pretend” at work. Lots of managers pretend they can run a productive operation, even though they never had or never seek training in the people skills they so desperately need. They fail to see the truth … that employees leave managers, not jobs.

Bottom line: In most cases “pretending” is nothing more than a fancy word for hypocrisy or a lack of ethics.

So what can you do to stop the “pretending” and make sure you live a life and work at a job that is filled with integrity and ethics? I’ve found these things work.

► 1. Remember your ethics are always on display.

Whether you’re in a leadership position or a support position, you will be seen. Make no mistake about it. People are watching you. You can’t hide your lack of ethics.

As motivational author Jim Rohn asks, “If you haven’t been totally aboveboard and honest with them (your employees and coworkers), do you really think you’ve gotten away with it? Not too likely.”

► 2. Remember your ethics … or lack of them … always affect others.

As I tell my audiences, especially when I’m speaking on the topic of leadership, “Never forget … people are always impressed or depressed by you.”

Unfortunately, many people think a few lies here or a dishonest action there are simply the rules of business these days. They fail to realize that even the smallest breech of ethics can have dire consequences.

For example, when we watched the space shuttle Challenger explode into a fireball in 1986, the U.S. public learned it was a “technical failure” in the infamous O-ring. But it was a lot more than a “technical failure”; it was a failure of integrity.

Under incredible pressure to launch, the O-ring manufacturer, Morton Thiokol, did not want to be the one to recommend a mission abort. They knew the O-rings may not work. But instead of risking the heat of criticism, they concurred with the launch decision and tragedy followed. The O-rings were a “little thing” that led to catastrophic failure.

Yes, your ethics always affect others. So ask yourself, “What could happen if I do this?” Play the scenario out in your mind. Otherwise, you may do something in a moment of thoughtlessness that causes major negative consequences.

Ask yourself, “Is this decision and action going to strengthen or weaken my integrity?”

► 3. Establish clear ethical guidelines BEFORE you have to.

In one of my programs with leaders and managers, I ask the participants to identify their organization’s values … values they expect their ideal employees to follow. Working in small groups, they quickly list about two dozen key words or phrases that describe their values.

And then I ask them to go back and identify the values that they would fire someone for not having. It always slows down the discussion. But inevitably, these groups settle on two or three things like “honesty,” “commitment,” and “integrity.”

The strange thing is … it’s only then that they begin to realize that they’ve never had detailed discussions about ethics with their employees. They haven’t provided any guidelines to deal with the ethical dilemmas that will come up in their line of work.

It’s then that I let them know that the best time to make a decision about ethical behavior is BEFORE they have to … before there is a question or temptation. It’s the best way of making sure they won’t go astray.

► 4. Walk your ethical talk … even if it requires sacrifice.

Remember, if you’re a leader of some sort, people are always watching you. And one of the key reasons employees fail to conform to an organization’s stated values is because their leaders fail to “walk their talk.”

I’ll never forget one pharmaceutical company I worked with. The CEO simply announced one day there would be a mentoring program on site and he arbitrarily and immediately assigned a mentor to each of several high-potential leaders. The CEO then ordered them to get to work and meet once a week. That was that.

Later, when the CEO supposed his program was well under way, he surveyed the high-potential leaders to see how well the mentoring program was working. He was very upset to discover that most of the mentor-mentee pairs had not met in six months.

As the CEO was about to reprimand the pairs who were not moving forward, he suddenly realized that he himself had not yet met with his own mentee. He was not walking his talk … because it required some sacrifice … namely his time.

Being a person of integrity requires discipline. Discipline is doing the right thing … even when you don’t feel like it. And with discipline, you’re willing to surrender some short-term ease to keep your long-term integrity.

Finally, if you do make an ethical error …

► 5. Admit your mistakes.

Being ethical doesn’t mean you won’t make a mistake. It does mean, however, that you’re the first one to admit your mistake. You learn from it, fix it, and apologize for it … if appropriate.

Do not play the blame game. Do not try to cover up your mistake or lie about it. And do not tell others, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Those are pathetic ploys that will do nothing but further damage your integrity.

Just admit it. As CEO Larry Bossidy of the Honeywell Corporation said, “Ego containment is crucial. The bigger the ego, the less willing you are to admit mistakes.”

Dr. Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip, Issue 1011 – The spooky truth about your ethics