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Doing the Right Thing--Even When Her Job Was At Stake

by: Joe DiSabatino
Hereís a true story Iíd like to share about doing the right thingóeven when her job was at stake.

Her name is M. and she is an attorney who manages the legal department of an insurance company. As my coaching client I supported her through a really challenging ethical dilemma with her boss. She had finished giving her annual performance evaluations to her small team, two of whom received the highest marks. Their annual salary increments were based on these ratings.

Mís boss meanwhile was on a new track regarding performance evaluations. He felt that the trend in recent years was to for managers to be too generous. He wanted stricter accountability in certain areas and this meant lower ratings in general.

So he called her into his office one day and told her that he disagreed with one of the two highest ratings she had given. He wanted her to lower her evaluation for this individual.

M. genuinely respected her boss but felt that he was mistaken in this case. She really believed that the person to whom she had given the excellent rating deserved it. She thought it would be unfair and potentially very damaging to his morale and commitment to the job if his evaluation was lowered. So what to do?

M. had impressed me from the beginning of our coaching engagement with her deep connection to her spiritual values and how she tried to use them as guides in her work. She was nearing retirement age and was working on a Masterís degree in pastoral counseling, something she looked forward to doing at her church when her lawyer-ing days were over.

So after informing her boss that she didnít want to change the evaluation rating of her direct report and why, he continued to pressure her to do just that. They had several conversations that didnít create a win-win resolution.

We discussed her feelings, thoughts and options in a couple of coaching sessions. M. felt very strongly about her position and even concluded that, if push came to shove, she was willing to risk her job rather than back down on the issue. In fact, during one of our sessions, she was convinced her boss would fire her.
Fortunately for her, she was in a financial position where she could take an early retirement.

Would she have taken the same strong position on her value of fairness and honesty if she was at an earlier stage of her career? What if she had a young family to supportóhow would that have affected her willingness to compromise with her boss? Letís face it, circumstances do play a role in how far we are willing to go to do the right thing. I guess everyoneís conscience operates differently, so there really isnít any one ďrightĒ moral course of action in so many of the situations we face. We take everything into accountóour values, our feelings, our needs, the needs of others who rely on us Ėand then we make the best ethical or moral decision we can. And thatís not always easy!

In a coaching session, we worked through the steps listed in the ďTipsĒ section below. M. decided to stick to her guns and to let the chips fall where they may. Doing so had an interesting effect on her boss. He stopped trying to persuade her to lower the evaluation. Instead, he took full responsibility for his decision by lowering the evaluation himself and telling the employee that it was his decision. He prepared M. for what he was going to do and she had time to think it over before the three of them met together. She decided that, even though she disagreed with what he was doing, she could live with it as long as the employee knew where she stood.

During the meeting her boss took the high road and made it completely clear that the lowering of the evaluation was totally his choice and he gave M. the opportunity to state her position. The consequence of this was that her relationship with the employee remained solid and M. felt good about herself for taking a stand on one of her core values. Her respect for her boss increased because of the way he handled the situation in the end. The employee wasnít happy, but his feelings were balanced out some by the show of integrity from both superiors, she found out later.

Notice how M.ís taking the moral high road influenced both her boss and her direct report to do the same. Instead of initiating a nasty grievance process or resigning, her employee dealt with his setback in-house rather than going outside for help or leaving.

This story strongly illustrates the ripple effect of putting trust and integrity principles into practice at a high level. When one person does this, it seems to turn on a light for others, and thatís really beautiful to behold. Itís so easy to take our cues from others, after all weíre social animals. But then someone comes along who takes their cues from somewhere else, from a place deep inside and we call that special place by so many different names. So when a courageous person does this, then we are all reminded that we have that place inside too, and we start to dare to live from there once again. I want to encourage you to be that courageous person.

If you are struggling with an ethical dilemma at work, and arenít sure how to move forward, email or call me, and Iíll be glad to discuss the situation with you.

Tips for Doing the Right Thing When Facing a Tough Ethical Choice:

* Take your time. Before making a tough ethical decision at work, take the time to identify the core value you feel is in danger of being compromised in the situation.
* What are your needs? Once you identify your core value at play, clarify your needs in the situation. For instance, M. needed to act with fairness and honesty, to maintain her direct reportís high morale and commitment, and to continue her good working relationship with him.
* Look for the third alternative. What are your options for getting these needs met? This can be tricky, because if strong emotions come into play, which they often do, itís human nature to narrow down our options to one or two courses of action, usually the ones at either extreme such as giving in or getting out. There may be a third alternative you just canít see yet for meeting your integrity needs. In Mís case, the third alternative presented itself after she drew her line in the sand. Iíve seen that happen a lot. When you take a strong stand, the other person stops trying to change your thinking and changes their own instead.
* Wait and see. Sometimes, if possible, doing nothing is the best response to pressure to do something that feels unethical or against your conscience. The person applying the pressure just stops after a while, often because they regained their emotional balance.

About the author:
Joe DiSabatino helps leaders and organizations reach their goals by creating high-trust work environments. For more support and information about the importance of trust and integrity in business, visit: www.phoenixleadership.com


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