COMMENTARY 920.5: Don’t Let the Bad Guys Win

by Michael Josephson on February 26, 2015

in Commentaries, Workplace, Management

Post image for COMMENTARY 920.5: Don’t Let the Bad Guys Win

During a seminar on ethics in the workplace, participants spoke about a wide array of unethical conduct they’d recently witnessed. They talked about high-level employees who lied on internal reports or blatantly took credit for the work of others and the intimidation or abuse of subordinates. These were clear-cut violations of organizational policy. Yet, in most cases the perpetrator escaped any serious sanction.

Executives, who have the responsibility to uphold organizational standards, seem to find an endless array of excuses to look the other way. And so the culture of many private and public institutions reflects a don’t-rock-the-boat, avoid-confrontation-at-any-cost philosophy that undermines institutional integrity and morale.

When managers systematically allow employees to get away with forbidden behavior, they make a mockery of organizational policies and ethical rhetoric. What’s worse, they cultivate seeds of inefficiency and corruption and demoralize employees who would willingly live up to higher standards of personal conduct. Every time we let a bad guy win, we weaken the resolve of dozens of ordinary folks who need to know that playing by the rules is not just for suckers.

How many organizations are mired in the quicksand of hypocrisy because they are led by executives who are too timid or ambitious to demand honorable behavior? Good organizations need good people, men and women of principle who can resist the seductions of short-term political expediency and overcome fears of litigation or unpopularity.

 This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Wood February 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Yes, I know this occurs often, perhaps more often thatn we would like to admit. As a veteran teacher I have seen both sides. I have had the joy of working with leaders and coworkers who share in decision making, make collaboration fun, and hold each other accountable. These are good times. Then again, I have also unfortunately had negative experiences. Times when political animals must imagine they are bigger and better in some way than their “underlings”. These poor leaders abuse, blame and manipulate in all kinds of ways. They are hypocrits, having one standard they espouse for others and a very different standard (if you can call it that) for themselves. It’s simply a “me, myself and I” kind of thing. Character that is narcisistic and selfish. Definitely not good for the whole. and these leaders will probably not succeed over the long term. Their organizations will probably not be sound. Good leadership does count. Character counts!


Salim Kanji February 1, 2013 at 8:48 pm

We have one of the best bosses around in Dr. Polonsky as the President of the Durham University in Ontario. He is often seen at the main entrance early mornings greeting his faculty and associates and the students. There are plenty of hugs and smiles during this early morning welcomes.
PLUS Dr Polonsky always gives credit where it is due.
God Bless Dr Polonsky and his loved ones


Ed February 26, 2015 at 9:58 am

This ‘unethical hypocrisy’ problem can be even worse than described. I witnessed a military bureaucracy assertively violate both their stated values and federal law by countermanding superior orders that threatened their huge budgets. That threat came from much cheaper and better capabilities. While that’s bad enough, those suppressed capabilities promised to stop the IED threat in the Middle East by the summer of 2007. How many of us were killed and maimed afterwards? About half of our total casualties. So, ‘letting the bad guys win’ as a cultural reality can have far more serious effects than simple hypocrisy and organizational failure.


Tim February 26, 2015 at 8:02 pm

It is even worse when the administrative level is unethical and the line personnel are the ones that uphold the moral center of an organization.


Michele March 2, 2015 at 9:10 am

I just returned to work at a Fortune 500 company from being out on a medical leave of absence for a year to find that I was no longer sitting where I had been and that my belongings had been moved. The items – rolling file cabinets, computer equipment, ergonomic furniture, and items that I had on my desk top and in open cabinets had been scattered around a very large area. None of it was labeled with my name. None of the boxes that stuff was put into were closed. And many items were stolen. The people that work in my organization all make between $60K and $325K. When I asked my manager and the next level manager, they shrugged it off and said to look around the city block sized area. They didn’t care that there was company equipment that now had to be replaced and they certainly didn’t care that my personal items were missing. There was no respect that was shown, and our company is always saying how the employee must come first and be treated with respect and given time for personal and family obligations.
Thank you for continuing to educate all about ethical behavior! Michele


Len Wallace March 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm

A person needs to speak up in a positive way that supports honesty and integrity. Do not vocally condemn the bad acts, act positively and avoid the negative.
They will get it.


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