Demand Ethical Behavior

crowded football stadiumThis week the world of football (soccer in the US) was shocked by the US Department of Justice indictment of 14 defendants for alleged FIFA kickbacks of more than $150 million over the past twenty years.

What was more shocking to me was the response of the FIFA president, up for re-election within hours, who said, “We cannot constantly supervise everyone in football . . . you cannot ask everyone to behave ethically.”

What an amazing admission by Sepp Blatter (who won re-election, despite the “distraction” of the arrests). Blatter believes he is not responsible – nor is any leader – if someone in their employ breaks the law (or bribes officials or launders money, etc.).

This is not just a FIFA leadership problem. Many company, region, department, and team leaders around the globe believe the same thing: “Leaders cannot ask their people to behave ethically. I am not responsible for whether my leaders or team members behave in an ethical manner.”

These issues are prevalent across the globe. For example, the CFO of the Phoenix VA hospital testified last June that the hospital environment was toxic, the “most dysfunctional place I’ve ever worked in my life.” She reported she was subject to sexual harassment, racial slurs, and bogus investigations during her two years there.

Phoenix VA administrators didn’t just focus on harassment of the CFO. They were apparently preoccupied with accusing and investigating one another for years – all while veterans awaited care in a system of backlogged appointments and fabricated wait-time reporting.

Here’s another example. In Denver, a former sheriff’s department investigator reported that he was told by his captain to avoid logging into evidence a videotape of inmate mistreatment that occurred last month. If the tape wasn’t logged into the evidence system, the incident would not be investigated further. The department has suffered systemic problems including poor training of officers and mistreatment of inmates for years.

The reality is that leaders are, indeed, responsible for the creation of productive workplaces that treat everyone with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction.

Where leaders create clear performance expectations and hold people accountable for those, results and profits steadily grow. Where leaders create clear values expectations – like integrity, honesty, cooperative interaction, etc. – and hold people accountable for those, employee engagement and customer service steadily grow.

Where leaders do not create clear expectations of performance and of citizenship, a void is created. In the absence of leadership, we humans will fail. We are flawed beings. We make mistakes. We are tempted to take advantage of systems and circumstances. Most of us resist those temptations; some don’t.

Leaders can absolutely ask – yes, even demand – that everyone behave ethically. By formalizing performance standards and values expectations, the ground rules are clearly set. The hard work comes after these expectations are formalized. Leaders must then model the performance and values in every interaction, showing they are champions of their desired culture. And, they must hold others accountable for both performance and values.

They do that by gathering performance data, feeding it back, and coaching players to success. They do that by gathering values data – inviting feedback from peers, employees, and customers to assess the degree to which players are modeling desired values and behaviors – and feeding it back, and coaching players to desired citizenship.

It’s not easy, but it is the right thing to do.

What do you think? Is ethical behavior demanded in your organization? How did your great bosses demand integrity and honesty? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Csaba Peterdi – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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