How do you determine what is right and what is wrong in your work? As leaders, we are asked to make decisions and take action in many different areas. These areas may address overall strategy, a business deal, a personnel issue, or even office furniture! For the sake of this discussion, let’s define ethics as externally driven by societal or organizational norms and morals as internally driven by personal values.
We use our ethics and morals to inform our conversations and behaviors. First, we must admit that we don’t always agree with social norms or others’ values. Even if we did agree, it is possible to find ourselves in a gray area.* Gray areas are difficult because circumstances defining the issue might have multiple, competing facets or don’t conform easily to the rules.
To see the right and not to do it is cowardice. ~Confucius
It takes courage and knowledge to balance right and wrong and make a wise decision. It takes even more courage to take action especially in the gray areas. Here are a few guidelines for navigating the gray areas:
- Understand All Sides: Sometimes there are more than two sides to an issue. Rushing through the discovery phase puts you at a disadvantage and people involved don’t feel heard or validated. You don’t have to agree, you just have to listen, ask questions, and understand.
- Come from Respect: If your actions are driven by selfish ambition, rather than respect, you will be seen as calculating and manipulative. Believe me, no one is clever enough to pull this off! People may treat you with kindness, but you are slowly draining their trust of and respect for you.
- Take a Stand: Making your beliefs known is risky, because, as we already acknowledged, not everyone will agree. However, if you ignore the issue or appear to waver, you appear cowardly, undermine your authority, and devalue your leadership. Courageously take firm action. If you are mistaken, explain why and change course.
- Finish Strong: One conversation explaining decisions may not be enough to inspire change. Monitor the situation or ask for updates as the team continues to work through the challenge. Full transparency will continue to reveal larger concerns or needed tweaks.
As a leader, you are being watched! In fact, your morals constantly contribute to the “acceptable norms” within your organization, ultimately reinforcing workplace ethics. Is it OK to talk about others in a negative light? Is it OK to ignore a significant issue once discovered? You set the tone for balancing right and wrong. You set the tone for you and your team. Be courageous!
1 A note to my grammar-minded friends: gray with an “a” is the American spelling and grey with an “e” is the British spelling— I checked! Keep the feedback coming; it means you’re reading this!! 🙂
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Sugerman (PMP, PCC) is a speaker, author, and leadership coach with Leading Synergies. She hosts global masterminds, called Synergy Groups, for REALLY BUSY Christians leading with powerful confidence and humble hearts. She works with high-performing leaders focused on organizational effectiveness by refining strategy, inspiring teams, and delighting clients. Michelle specializes in the areas of information technology, project management, franchise management, and business as mission. Michelle lives in Colorado where she hikes fourteeners and enjoys gourmet meals with her loving husband of 21 years.