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You are your company’s moral compass.

Years ago, when I was CEO of my record manufacturing company in Hollywood, I happened to walk around the plant into the press room just as Bobby, one of the employees’ favorite coworkers, was offering stolen merchandise to his fellow pressmen from a bag he was carrying.  He halted, and waited for me to react, obviously caught in the act.   Everyone loved Bobby, a hard worker and good friend.  But I fired him on the spot; the only possible response to the situation presented me so suddenly.  After initial shock, a number of employees came to me that day and said that they understood how hard that decision was, but that they knew it was the right thing to do. 

You will find many times during your management years when such decisions are placed before you, requiring quick unwavering response to an ethical challenge to you or your company.  How you comport yourself in these situations is absolutely the litmus test for how your company culture will reflect your actions.  Take home company supplies for personal use?  Your employees will surely follow your lead, no matter what the policy.  Treat personal expenses at company cost, and your sales people will feel just fine doing the same until caught.  Behave without regard for an individual’s dignity when separating an employee who is a direct report, and other managers will feel little compunction to spend the extra time and energy softening their actions.  Alter any accounting result for the sake of making a month look good, and your accounting department will get the message that GAAP accounting is just for show. 

It is not easy to always be the moral compass for the organization, but it is the right thing and cannot be compromised.  And you will continue to enjoy the stories of times taking the high road as retold to you by your employees over time.

  • One of the things I would also look to a leader to do, in addition to setting the example as to what is right and what is not, is to make sure the employees know that as long as they do do right, he or she will always have their backs. For one thing, if you set certain standards of performance, do not reward employees who violate or fail to meet those standards. For another, show that abusive behavior from employees toward one another, e.g. manager to subordinate, or from vendor/service provider/customer toward employee, will not be tolerated. I think you previously addressed the latter point in an earlier post re: employee retention.

    Our son recently went through a situation where an outside service provider was screamingly and almost physically abusive to him on two separate occasions while his boss, who was in those meetings, sat by and did nothing. That was a big factor in our son’s decision to accept an offer from another company after having previously thought he should stay where he was…

  • Dave,

    Very well said and thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom on our personal values in the work place. For me, my goal is to follow my heart, without compromise, and with impeccable integrity… my moral compass will then point me to the high road in all that I do and say.


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