6 Tips on being an ethical manager

Posted on November 14, 2019 · Posted in blog

In a previous blog post, we wrote about the four important skills-sets/mind-sets which can transform a manager into a coaching manager.

To recap, these were:

* Establishing trust
* Applying ethical standards
* Practising active listening
* Communicating clearly, with clear goal-setting ability

This week, let’s tackle the seemingly boring (for some) but imperative and crucial issue of ethical standards.

What are those? How do we begin a discussion about what’s ethical in the workplace?

And how do we impose those ethical codes?

Ethics is about cheating less

Dan Ariely, in his book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, describes numerous lab and public experiments which he conducted in order to determine under what conditions people will cheat and by how much.

Here’s what he had found:

When cheating is made possible people will almost always cheat — but only by a little. People will cheat up to the level where they start to feel bad about their own internal sense of integrity.

This makes all of us somewhat dishonest. You and I included. Dishonesty in this context means any lie, including those socially acceptable and encouraged lies such as “your hair looks fine” to someone who is very self-conscious about their hair, which you think looks terrible; to “cannot join you because I don’t feel well” when you actually just had a fight with your wife and you two are simply not going to share that with an acquaintance who’s invited you for that dinner. Or even, as you’ll discover in the book, wearing fake designer clothes or accessories.

These are the factors which promote the chances of people acting dishonestly:

– The ability to rationalise it.
– A conflict of interest.
– A high personal level of creativity and imagination.
– The precedent of one dishonest act of one’s own.
– Watching others behave dishonestly.
– A culture that provides examples of dishonesty.
– If others benefit from our dishonesty.
– Being tired or stressed.

How do we achieve more honesty?

And, maybe more importantly for our topic of ethics:

Dishonest behaviour decreases when:
– People are asked to make a pledge to confirm their honesty (but this needs to be refreshed, and people need to be reminded of it, as this effect it is time-bound)
– Moral reminders, close to the time of action.
– Supervision.

These findings mean that as managers we need to be aware of dishonesty being built-in in us as human beings (part of our imperfection) and we must, therefore, help ourselves, our teams and our employees to stay in the right lane.

Based on Ariely’s findings and many more that came after his work, here are some tips for ensuring you’re conducting yourself ethically:

1. Make sure that people are supervised; without micromanaging them, but with good systems in place to check in and follow up – and hold people – and yourself first – accountable.
2. Underpromise and over-deliver as much as you can
3. Have a code of conduct written up
4. Remind people regularly of that code of conduct
5. Reward ethical decisions – even when the cost to business in the short term is fairly high
6. Condemn unethical behaviour – which includes the obvious (cheating, stealing, etc) but also the less obvious (talking behind someone’s back, repeating unchecked rumours, disclosing information that is confidential, etc).

And follow these yourself! Because if you don’t – know that your influence will be immense – as your employees will follow your example. Your actions and demeanour – not your words.

People will notice if you say you’re in a meeting out of town when you’re in fact going to run some errands. They will notice if you pass a negative judgement about another colleague and do the same, etc.

Like all human behaviours, everything is on a continuum and most things are fluid, dynamic and ever-changing.

Holding yourself accountable

However, we can learn from experiments and cumulative evidence that we are not rational, and very imperfect, which is why we need rules, reminders and a lot of good self-management.

Much of what we do as coaches, is helping leaders reflect and hold themselves to a high standard. What do you, as a manager, do to keep yourself challenged to be your best?