Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mirror, Mirror...

Executive Order 12674: The Foundation for Ethical Behavior - "To ensure public confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government, Executive Order 12674 (as amended) forms the framework for the ethical behavior required and expected of all Federal employees."
News stories abound about huge missteps in leadership and unethical behavior by government employees: the GSA and Secret Service scandals and various other examples of misuse of public funds. Can you look at yourself and your organization in the mirror and say that you and those under your command could withstand an ethical review?

The remainder of this blog will address how culture may contribute to leadership failures, what Leading in the Wildland Fire Service has to say about accountability and ethics, and how can leaders avoid a fall from grace.

The Cultural Norm
Jena McGregor's inference from statements by Congressman Darrell Issa in The Washington Post article "Secret Service Scandal: An Indication of Broader Organization Problems?" is that "events like this are often the result of a pattern of behavior that is symptomatic of broader organizational problems." She refers to a loosening of standards that gives way to a circumstance that becomes a cultural norm within an organization--a when-in-Rome-do-as-the-Romans-do sort of mentality.

Leading in the Wildland Fire Service
Setting and Achieving Standards (page 40)
Leaders set standards as a means of clearly stating the leader's expectations as well as those of the organization. Standards define acceptable performance, and holding people accountable is contingent on clearly defined standards.

Fire leaders step up to the responsibility of establishing reasonable standards, and providing the resources necessary to achieve the standard. With standards in place, leaders help people develop technical and personal competency, enabling them to grow as individuals.

Peer Accountability (page 54)
Leaders create teams in which team members hold each other accountable. More than any system of reward and discipline, more than any policy, the fear of letting down respected teammates and peers represents the most effective means of accountability.

Peer accountability is an outgrowth of trust and commitment. We set the example by demonstrating that team members can hold us accountable, encouraging them to give use feedback on our own performance in meeting stated goals.

Moral Courage (page 63)
Wildland fire leaders demonstrate moral courage by adhering to high ethical standards and choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong. We avoid ethical dilemmas by directing team members to operate in ways that are consistent with our professional standards and by directing them only to actions they can achieve ethically.

When we make mistakes, we handle them in honorable and effective ways, fixing the immediate problem then searching for root causes. Leaders with moral courage look for causes, not scapegoats, learning and improving, looking for ways to turn weaknesses into strengths.

An outgrowth of strong character, moral courage enables us to build trust with our teams and gain respect from peers. Although some may judge that leading ethically compromises short-term gains, leading ethically allows us to accomplish more than our mission.

Because the consequences of ethical decisions can be great and those who make such decisions may be asked later to justify their conclusion, following a careful and thorough process is a wise approach in situations with ambiguous courses of action. The values of duty, respect, and integrity should weigh heavily in any ethical decision.

Leadership: Avoiding a Fall from Grace
Check out this interview with Dr. Joyce Russell, Director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Leadership Challenge
  • Evaluate yourself as an ethical leader. Are you walking the talk and acting appropriately?
  • Evaluate your organization's cultural roots. Are you leading an ethical organization? Are people accountable for their actions and abiding by the standards?
  • Foster the concept of peer accountability within your team and for yourself.

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