Talent Development 8 Compliance and Ethical Behavior

August 27, 2020

The topics of Compliance and Ethical Behavior are part of the ATD CPTD Certification model.

This topic involves a knowledge of laws, regulations, and ethical issues related to the access and use of information. There are numerous statutes that help to safeguard sensitive information, whether that is copyrighted information, patented technology, or personally sensitive data.

The area of ethical corporate behavior is the topic of this article. I have been involved with ethics all my life and have taught different courses on the subject at local universities. I consider ethical behavior to be a subset of trust, and it is simply about doing business the right way.

We tend to rationalize situations when there are difficult choices. We use flawed logic to make something seem right when it really is not. To guard against ethical lapses, we need organizations to build cultures of trust and psychological safety.

The ability to speak up when you see something that does not seem right is at the core of ethical behavior. Unfortunately, in many organizations, the leaders find ways to punish rather than reward whistle blowers.

Leaders who have built up a high degree of trust based on the knowledge that it is a good thing to speak up when something does not seem right have the advantage of many eyes and ears to view each action. If a leader gets off the straight and narrow through some form of rationalization, the individuals will point that out. It is up to the leaders to reinforce this candor by making the whistle blower glad he brought up the problem.

In Rochester New York, we have a group that has been seeking to raise the level of ethics in our extended community by celebrating organizations that are doing great things with respect to ethics.

We call the effort “Elevate Rochester” because by openly celebrating highly ethical organizations we raise the level of awareness for ethics. Our vision is to eventually become the “Gold Standard” in terms of an ethical community.

We have a long way to go, but our program is strong and vital. It involves an annual contest to uncover highly ethical organizations (except 2020 due to COVID-19). The contest starts early in the year by a series of breakfast meetings to encourage organizations to apply for an award we call the “ETHIE.”
Groups then fill out a brief application form that asks for content and examples in the following four areas.

1. Ethical Leadership – we ask the organization to identify the importance of values, ethical standards and moral conduct in all stakeholder relations.
2. Organizational Excellence – to establish and maintain ethical standards and operational processes that are well deployed throughout the organization.
3. Ethical Challenges – this is a description of how the organization deals with ethical issues when they come up either internally or externally.
4. Corporate Citizenship – how the organization gives back to the community and supports the well-being of society.

For 2021, we will be adding a fifth section that deals with how well the organization practices inclusion and equity principles in their work.

Organizations fill out the application, and an independent panel of judges decides which organizations meet the criteria and pass on to the next level of activity, which involves a site visit to witness the degree of deployment of the above areas.

Finally, in the Fall, there is a celebration that mimics the Oscar Awards, thus celebrating the best ethical organizations in our region.

Participating organizations tell us that the organized process is the valuable part of the contest. Getting a glass statue for the trophy case is the icing on the cake, but the real benefit is bringing ethical behavior front and center within the organization on a daily basis.


Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders.



Toxic Leaders

September 23, 2012

We are all familiar with the word “toxic” and recognize that toxic substances are known to cause human beings serious injury or death. We are also aware that some individuals have mastered the skill of being toxic to other people. When a toxic person is the leader of an organization, the performance of that unit will typically be less than half what it would be under a leader who builds trust. There is documented evidence (see Trust Across America statistics) that high trust groups outperform low trust groups by a factor of two to five times.

Thankfully, the majority of leaders are not toxic. One estimate given by LTG Walter F. Ulmer in an article entitled “Toxic Leadership” (Army, June 2012) is that 30-50% of leaders are essentially transformational, while only 8-10% are essentially toxic. The unfortunate reality is that one toxic leader in an organization does such incredible damage, he or she can bring down an entire culture without even realizing it.

Why would a leader speak and behave in a toxic way if he or she recognizes the harm being done to the organization. Is it because leaders are just not aware of the link between their behaviors and performance of the group? Is it because they are totally unaware of the fact that their actions are toxic to others? Is it because they are lazy and just prefer to bark out orders rather than work to encourage people? While there are instances where any of these modes might be in play, I think other mechanisms are responsible for most of the lamentable behaviors of toxic leaders.

Toxic leaders do understand that people are generally unhappy working under them. What they fail to see is the incredible leverage they are leaving off the table. They just do not believe there is a better way to manage, otherwise they would do that. If you are in an organization, there is a possibility you are in daily contact with one or more toxic leaders. There are three possibilities here: 1) you have a leader working for you who is toxic, 2) you are a toxic leader yourself, but do not know it or want to admit it, or 3) you are working for a toxic leader or have one higher in the chain of command. I will give some tips you can use for each of these cases.

Toxic Leader Working for you – this person needs to become more aware that he or she is operating at cross purposes to the goals of the organization. Do this through education and coaching. Once awareness is there, then you can begin to shape the behavior through leadership development and reinforcement. It may be that this person is just not a good fit for a leadership role. If the behaviors are not improved, then this leader should be removed.

You are a toxic leader – it is probably not obvious to you how much damage is being done by your treatment of other people. They are afraid to tell you what is actually going on, so you are getting grudging compliance and leaving their maximum discretionary effort unavailable to the organization. The antidote here is to genuinely assess your own level of toxicity and change it if you are not happy with the answer. This can be accomplished through getting a leadership coach or getting some excellent training. Try to read at least one good leadership book every month.

You are working for a toxic leader – in my experience, this is the most common situation. It is difficult and dangerous to retrofit your boss to be less toxic. My favorite saying for this situation is, “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” So what can you do that will have a positive impact on the situation without risking loss of employment? Here are some ideas that may help, depending on how severe the problem is and how open minded the boss is:

1. Create a leadership growth activity in your area and invite the boss to participate. Use a “lunch and learn” format where various leaders review some great books on leadership. I would start with some of the Warren Bennis books or perhaps Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

2. Suggest that part of the performance gap is a lack of trust in higher management and get some dialog on how this could be improved. By getting the boss to verbalize a dissatisfaction with the status quo, you can gently shape the issue back to the leader’s behaviors. The idea is to build a recognition of the causal relationship between culture and performance.

3. Show some of the statistical data that is available that links higher trust to greater productivity. The Trust Across America Website is a great source of this information.

4. Bring in a speaker who specializes in improving culture for a quarterly meeting. Try to get the speaker to interface with the problem leader personally offline. If the leader can see some glimmer of hope that a different way of operating would provide the improvements he or she is seeking, then some progress can be made.

5. Suggest some leadership development training for all levels in the organization. Here it is not necessary to identify the specific leader as “the problem,” rather, discuss how improved leadership behaviors at all levels would greatly benefit the organization.

6. Reinforce any small directional baby steps in the right direction the leader inadvertently shows. Reinforcement from below can be highly effective if it is sincere. You can actually shape the behavior of your boss by frequent reminders of the things he or she is doing right.

It is a rare leader who will admit, “Our performance is far off the mark, and since I am in charge, it must be that my behaviors are preventing people from giving the organization their maximum discretionary effort.” Those senior leaders who would seriously consider this statement are the ones who can find ways to change through training and coaching. They are the ones who have the better future. Most toxic leaders will remain with their habits that sap the vital energy from people and take their organizations in exactly the opposite direction from where they want to go.

Another key reason why toxic leaders fail to see the opportunity staring them in the face is a misperception about Leadership Development. The typical comment is, “We are not into the touchy-feely stuff here. We do not dance around the maypole and sing Kum-ba-yah while toasting marshmallows by the campfire.” The problem here is that several leadership training methods in the past have used outdoor experiential training to teach the impact of good teamwork and togetherness. Senior leaders often feel too serious and dignified for that kind of frivolity, so they sit in their offices and honestly believe any remedial training needs to be directed toward the junior leaders.

To reduce the impact of a toxic leader, follow the steps outlined above, and you may be able to make a large shift in performance over time while preserving your job. You can even use this article as food for thought and pass it around the office to generate dialog on how to chart a better future for the organization.