Owners, Managers and Supervisors: Ethics Are For You, Too

There’s been a lot in the news lately about police officers who make mistakes.

meeting of team of business people

Owners and managers must often take a birds eye view of their organization. It’s also important to remember you’re being watched as well. How you conduct yourself can impact the bottom line.

First, let me note that I believe those who work in law enforcement face some of the most demanding jobs on the planet. They are sometimes asked to make split-second decisions that may involve life or death, including their own. That’s not to ignore the handful of bad actions, but simply recognition that most of us wouldn’t do any better, and often a lot worse.

I am also realistic and know a bit about human nature. People are not perfect. Some will make honest mistakes and a few will even try to take advantage of situations that offer an opportunity for some kind of gain.

I don’t bring this up to put more woe on the backs of law enforcement officers. What I want to point out is that business owners, managers and supervisors need to remember that their roles share some similarities with those of police. In particular, people in authority will often be judged just as harshly and just as quickly as those in law enforcement. They’re on stage, and perceived mistakes are quickly uncovered and slow to be forgiven.

For these reasons, leaders any type of organization need to work hard not to add to their own problems. You’re going to make mistakes. But don’t make the kind that your employees and fellow workers will see as flaunting power or abusing authority.

There are even more reasons to steer clear of this than the obvious problems. Employees at the hourly or elementary level are often paid primarily for their time. Supervisory level employees are paid primarily for their judgment. The higher the position, the more judgment is usually in play. For a senior level employee to break the rules, often his or her own rules or company rules, can lead to serious problems.

A good example involves actions that run counter to company or organization policy. I believe that supervisory level managers have an ethical responsibility and obligation to work for the benefit of their company. This means working at a micro level and providing excellence with what is assigned and with other senior level leaders to ensure their success. To withhold assistance or to undermine fellow supervisors is to work at cross-purposes with the company and that is unethical.

I realize that saying supervisors should always cooperate may sound naive. With everything from office politics to legitimate divisional tension, managers and other upper level staff will have disagreements, including serious ones. But unless the business or organization has very deep pockets, allowing extreme cases to continue is likely to result in significant costs.

Though sometimes less obvious, other actions that impact your subordinates are important as well. Employees are quick to see a manager or supervisor who says one thing but does another. Even if they can’t do anything about it directly, they can make effective leadership impossible. Even if they try not to, employees in this kind of situation are likely to suffer from poor morale and bring lower performance. Being labeled as hypocritical or not following your own rules can be extremely counterproductive for everyone involved.

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