Sally reports mostly to Frank and sometimes to Tom. She hesitates to tell Frank about what’s happening on the floor. He always seems to blame others and not take responsibility for those in his charge. However, in his own eyes, Frank regards himself as being both highly ethical and honest. Sally hates telling anything to Frank out of fear of backlash. In fact, if it weren’t for Tom, she would have quit a long time ago. Tom models integrity and openness. When something needs to be changed, he goes out of his way to communicate and listen to feedback.
A recent study by the Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI) of over 13,000 employees shows:
- “Ethical leadership is a critical factor in driving down ethics and compliance risk;
- Leaders have a “rosier” view of the state of workplace integrity, and often have more positive beliefs than employees further down the chain of command; and
- The quality of the relationship between supervisors and reports goes a long way in determining whether employees report workplace integrity issues to management.”1
Interestingly leaders often rate their own level of integrity as higher than their employees rate them. What’s the reason for the difference in perception? A leader like Frank in the example above does not own up to the example employees can admire. Tom, on the other hand, gets in front of his employees with a heightened sense of responsibility for all situations. Particularly when times are tough, employees look to their leaders for direction and empathy. In the eyes of the employee, Frank cannot be trusted, and Tom can.
Furthermore, the quality of the relationship between leader and employee will determine the likelihood of whether something unethical is reported. This goes for not only the front-line workers, but middle management as well. Senior leaders should be resources of what and how to behave ethically. Set the example. Too much communication is better than too little. Don’t assume that one transmission of a message is enough. Provide ethical guidelines and reporting means through multiple channels and repeat the messaging often.
The above mentioned ECI study2 depicts ethical behavior differences among subordinates in 13 countries. Interestingly, even though power distance varies from place to place, the amount of trust in the integrity of the leadership to maintain a culture of correct ethical behavior is ranked consistently high in determining whether an employee will behave ethically himself and/or report unethical behavior in others. Furthermore, there is a one-to-one correlation in the propensity of an employee to quit when the leadership’s ethical behavior is perceived and weak and dishonest.
Michael Marx, Ed.D., PCC is a Convene chair charged with launching the first Virtual Forum Team. He is also the author of Ethics and Risk Management for Christian Coaches (2016 – Mount Tabor Media). He leads ICF’s Ethics Community of Practice and sits on their Independent Review Board. Michael is a Certified Professional Life Coach through the Professional Christian Coaching Institute, where he teaches ethics and coaching mastery. He is a Certified Professional Christian Coach through the Christian Coaches Network International and is the past president of that organization. Michael earned a doctorate in adult education from Regent University and an MBA from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. You can contact him at Michael.Marx@Convenenow.com