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Topics: Ethics and Organizational Culture
What will you do if you see your manager/leader behaving unethically?
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Shelly works as a Program Manager in public sector, in a fast speed, politically sensitive, multicultural environment, managing a team of professionals, delivering an array of sensitive projects. Shelly is a well – seasoned professional, with a good reputation, recognized for her knowledge, expertise and her strong work ethics.

Recently, during the meetings with senior management, she has noticed that frequently her superior (i.e. director) makes inappropriate comments about other senior management. These comments refer to their knowledge and understanding of the current projects, their urgency, issues and their progress. Shelly has also heard similar conversations, “small talks”, happening in the kitchen and photocopier area of the office.
As this situation has been happening for a few weeks now Shelly is tormented by the unethical behavior of her boss, and she is ready to initiate actions.

What will you do if you see your superior/leader is behaving unethically? What would you recommend Shelly to do?
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Lily -

It depends on the relationship I have with my superior. If there is mutual trust and respect, then I would want to apprise my superior of my concerns with the comments and the perceived or real impacts created.

If not, it is a bit tougher as I might be walking on thin ice. In such cases it would be heavily influenced by the culture of the company itself - if such behavior is commonplace amongst other senior leaders, then I might have to decide whether I can create positive change or not.

Kiron
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1 reply by Lily Murariu
May 17, 2018 7:29 PM
Lily Murariu
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@Kiron: Thank you for your feedback.
A healthy relationship based on trust and respect will ease things and approaching the boss directly may be the avenue to approach and explore this matter.
Respect is key in any work relationship and as project managers, we know that "Respect is our duty to show a high regard for ourselves, others, and the resources entrusted to us".
and
"An environment of respect engenders trust, confidence, and performance excellence by fostering mutual cooperation—an environment where diverse perspectives and views are encouraged and valued."
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Badmouthing one's colleagues isn't 'unethical'. The director's actions are unprofessional, unwise, unkind and reflect poorly on the director personally, but the director's actions aren't illegal. Unless the organization's code of conduct specifically prohibits negative talk about coworkers, the director isn't doing anything one can call unethical.
Consider: What if everything the director is saying about the other senior managers is true? What if the director is trying to expose senior managers who schmoozed their way into their positions, and whose incompetence is threatening to cause the organization serious problems? Shelly needs to talk to the director to find out the reasons behind his or her critique of the senior managers; only then should she decide how to act.
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1 reply by Lily Murariu
May 17, 2018 8:48 PM
Lily Murariu
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@Eric: Thank you, Eric, it is indeed a very good approach what you are suggesting.
Gather evidence as the basic start of the ethical decision-making process.
Network:349



It depends on the relationship you have with your director, but it would be best to approach the situation with respect.

But the best option is to try to understand why the director is doing that, is that his way of being? or is it something that is happening now?

  The best thing would be to talk to the director in a respectful way and ask him why he is doing that.
What is it that, that really bothers you about the other manager?
Why do not you have a meeting with that person?

Sometimes people do not find a way to talk to someone else and they start talking behind their backs to see if that person changes their aptitude.

Although we do not believe it, that happens daily in many companies
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Always talk to them first. It may not be what you think. So that is the first thing. If it is ethical (and depending on what it is) ask them to stop or you may have to report it. If it something detrimental to the company or employees, you will need to report them regardless.
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1 reply by Lily Murariu
May 17, 2018 8:45 PM
Lily Murariu
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@Sante: Thank you for your insight, Santhe, this is so true. Start with the basic, and communication should be the "forte" of any project manager.
Act based on facts and evidence rather than perceptions, and assumptions based on "one-time accident" or rumors.
Project managers " file ethics complaints when they are substantiated by facts." (PMI Code of ethics 2.3.4.)
Network:2502



Talking about other managers like this can be considered creating a hostile work environment. It is causing friction amongst the managers. I had a director who did this. She would basically be "playing her managers against each other". Her goal was to be the one everyone would come to. I did try to defend the managers when she did this in front of me. I also tried to steer the conversation away from the other manager.
I could have gone to our EEO and filed a complaint. However, I was in a difficult situation because the CIO was backing everything she did. At that time everyone was trying to not "rock the boat" and keep doing their jobs. I will admit that I did not have the strength to take this step.
The first step in this situation is to talk to the manager. If they talk about others in front of you, stop them immediately and tell them you do not think it is appropriate to be having this conversation. If they continue, discuss the issue with their boss. If the behavior still does not stop, then you can contact your EEO.
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I went through it one time and I hate to remember it or to go into details, I walked off from the whole company within few weeks.
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1 reply by Lily Murariu
May 17, 2018 7:44 PM
Lily Murariu
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@Kevin: Thank you for sharing this here.
Network:1078



From two things, the one: we agree with such practices or we condemn , there is no half measure. We are against such bad practices without any attenuating circumstances and we certainly report to the hierarchy to take appropriate sanctions.When we must give the example, we must not behave so negatively at the peril of the entire community.
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1 reply by Lily Murariu
May 17, 2018 7:36 PM
Lily Murariu
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Cheikh: Thank you for your comment.
Reporting this type of behavior is not only a demonstration of courage and the ability for standing by your own values but also a responsibility:
" We report the unethical or illegal conduct to appropriate management and, if necessary, to those affected by the conduct."(PMI Code of Ethics 2.3.2.)
Network:1515



In my opinion, if my values and the values of my boss are seriously out of sync, a separation is inevitable.
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1 reply by Lily Murariu
May 17, 2018 7:31 PM
Lily Murariu
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@Anish: Indeed, Anish, thank you for this comment.
This is a difficult decision sometimes, however, misalignment at this level, in this type of relationship can definitely be extremely detrimental.
Network:878



May 15, 2018 6:48 PM
Replying to Kiron Bondale
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Lily -

It depends on the relationship I have with my superior. If there is mutual trust and respect, then I would want to apprise my superior of my concerns with the comments and the perceived or real impacts created.

If not, it is a bit tougher as I might be walking on thin ice. In such cases it would be heavily influenced by the culture of the company itself - if such behavior is commonplace amongst other senior leaders, then I might have to decide whether I can create positive change or not.

Kiron
@Kiron: Thank you for your feedback.
A healthy relationship based on trust and respect will ease things and approaching the boss directly may be the avenue to approach and explore this matter.
Respect is key in any work relationship and as project managers, we know that "Respect is our duty to show a high regard for ourselves, others, and the resources entrusted to us".
and
"An environment of respect engenders trust, confidence, and performance excellence by fostering mutual cooperation—an environment where diverse perspectives and views are encouraged and valued."
Network:878



May 16, 2018 12:08 PM
Replying to Anish Abraham
...
In my opinion, if my values and the values of my boss are seriously out of sync, a separation is inevitable.
@Anish: Indeed, Anish, thank you for this comment.
This is a difficult decision sometimes, however, misalignment at this level, in this type of relationship can definitely be extremely detrimental.
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