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Leadership dilemma: When company values and loyalty clash

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May 5, 2023

Gerry is the president of an organization that has built its culture and brand upon a short list of core values.

One of those values is ethical behavior.

Recently, an employee of the company, Cam, attended an industry conference.

One evening as attendees socialized following the conference, Cam behaved in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s culture and values when he assaulted another person.

Gerry was astonished to learn about Cam’s inappropriate and aggressive behavior via witnesses and videos.

The temptation of loyalty
Over many years with the company, Cam rose through the ranks to a significant leadership position.

By all accounts, Cam’s reputation has been that of a well-liked, well-mannered and high-performing professional.

As such, several influential individuals within the company asked Gerry to figure out a way to punish Cam for his bad judgment and poor behavior at the conference in a way that would allow him to remain with the company.

He was just too valuable to lose – especially over one bizarre, out-of-character situation that didn’t technically even occur on company time.

Choosing values over loyalty
However, to value ethical behavior is to value behavior that is within the limits of the law, follows a strong moral code and consistently aligns with the organization’s values.

Unfortunately for Cam, his behavior on the evening in question did not meet those criteria.

Nonetheless, Gerry mulled over the facts and the opinions that swirled around him.

He sorted through the pros and cons of each possible leadership response to the situation.

He consulted attorneys, authorities who were involved in the situation and the leadership team.

Finally, when he and I met, Gerry concluded: “If we are truly a company that values ethical behavior, there is only one correct response to this situation. We cannot condone Cam’s actions and behaviors. Period.”

Gerry made a tough decision in alignment with the company’s value of ethical behavior.

I knew the decision to let Cam go was difficult for him.

I could see it in his eyes, and I could feel the heaviness of his heart.

Using company values as a guide
There are times when principled behavior in business seems to be questionable, at least, and inconsistent, at best.

So, it is impressive when leaders actually use their company’s values as a guide to simplify and clarify complicated employee-related decisions.

It is even more notable in this case because Gerry certainly could have crafted an “acceptable” way around the situation in order to avoid any accountability to the core value of ethical behavior.

He could have rationalized a decision to overlook Cam’s behavior, which would have likely delighted some people within the organization.

Instead, Gerry used the company’s core values as a guide to making a difficult decision regarding Cam, even though it meant taking an unpopular and emotionally challenging course of action.
As tough as it was for Gerry to prioritize adherence to organizational values over loyalty, personal bias, or short-term benefit in this situation, his transparent and consistent actions will undoubtedly reinforce the respect and trust he has earned from the company’s workforce.

By upholding principled, values-based standards in every decision, leaders, like Gerry, can create a culture of integrity that fosters long-term success.

A noteworthy post-script: As outlined above, Gerry was unwilling to make exceptions to the organizational value of ethical behavior.

Despite Cam’s departure from the company, Gerry continued to adhere to the value of ethical behavior by ensuring Cam would have appropriate resources available to him to uncover and address the root cause of his behavior at the conference.
Terri Jacke is the founder and president of Inspired Training Institute, Inc., an executive coaching and organizational development firm, and author of “Is This a Lousy Job or Is It Me?: A Real-Life Guide for Achieving Success at Work.”

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