An Important Lesson

Professional Ethics

“During my second month of university,” describes a successful business leader, “our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one:

What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?

Surely this was some kind of joke! I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired, and in her 50’s, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

“Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is say, ‘hello’ and smile.”

I’ve never forgotten that emphatic technique…I also learned her name was Dorothy.”

This story illustrates an aspect of professional ethics that all of us should know, but is rarely discussed or set out as an expectation – the importance of acknowledging people and valuing what they do. We provide a job description that delineates the responsibilities and tasks that, from a service perspective, a person is hired to do. We may provide a Policies and Procedures Manual outlining how we manage and proceed with our tasks. However we rarely discuss those organizational tasks that are related to professional ethics. Yet, they are essential to great leadership.

Individuals receive many benefits from being a part of an organization, and in return they are responsible for certain tasks and responsibilities. Four key organizational tasks that each person must carry out are:

  1. Engage fully in open and regular communication with the person to whom they report. Each individual should keep the person to whom they report fully informed, whether the work is going well or not. Any and all significant aspects of performance are addressed, and there should be no unpleasant or belated surprises. It is not the leader’s job to extract the information. If the leader hears via the grapevine about someone having difficulties, then that individual is not carrying out her responsibilities — to keep the leader informed.
  2. Deal constructively and helpfully with all other members of the organization.Everyone in an organization must interact with others everyday. It is important that these interactions are constructive and ensure that people are working together to provide superior results. No one is at liberty to put others down, to withhold information from them, or to exhibit any behaviour that could be detrimental to the success of another person and the organization. This applies equally in peer-to-peer relationships as well as between leaders and their direct reports.
  3. Adhere to all policies and procedures of the organization. Policies and procedures are developed for very specific purposes. They provide clear expectations for each person. Ignoring them can jeopardize the results of the company, and can put the organization into a very tenuous position. If the policies or procedures are no longer effective, then they should be changed, and the changes clearly communicated to all concerned.
  4. Be a constructive representative of the organization to those outside it. The reputation of the company is a very important to ensuring loyal internal and external customers. No one wants to deal with a company that has a reputation for poor service or poor treatment of people. It is therefore critical that everyone deal constructively and honestly with issues of concern at the workplace. It is amazing how quickly rumours can get started based on an innocent comment made outside of work or even in the home.

These four responsibilities should be spelled out when someone is hired so there are no misunderstandings.

Regular coaching is a great way to build strong trusting relationships, and to ensure that these aspects of professional ethics are alive and well in the organization. Coaching is a two-way forum which takes into account the needs of the individual and the needs of the organization. Part of the coach’s obligation is to ensure that the person fully understands their responsibilities to the organization and to make sure that these responsibilities are being addressed effectively.

If you are interested in learning more about these concepts, coaching, or how to develop strong leadership skills, Click Here to find out more about Results-Centred Leadership©

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April 1, 2010

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