Last week in Spain, still recovering from the biggest snowfall in decades, we learnt that some politicians and other public figures get the COVID-19 vaccine before they should. In most cases, it was only when they received public backlash when they started to give explanations, mostly excuses, for their decisions.
What happens with some people who think the rules don’t apply to them?
Usually, they think their power and position drive away consequences and, therefore, the common rules don’t apply to them. This ‘do as I say, not as I do’ behaviour has become so evident in the public sphere that is making citizens lose trust in their representatives for good.
Besides the obvious effect, which is that some people in risk won’t receive their doses on time, there is something more we all should think about.
What is the effect on people when a leader behaves like that?
This passage from ‘The life and adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes’ wisely illustrates the first effects of this behaviour. The blind old man and the young boy were sharing a bunch of grapes. The boy was told to pick the grapes one by one; but he soon realized that while he picked one grape, the old man picked two at the same time. Without saying anything, the boy started to pick three.
That day, he learnt two things. First, he couldn’t trust the old man’s word. Second, he could do the same as long as the man doesn’t notice.
These are the very first effects of poor ethics behaviours: lack of trust on the leader and bad behaviour promotion.
Bad news is that this is happening also in many organizations.
How many times leaders are encouraging one specific behaviour but then promote the opposite?
You probably know about Enron, the electricity, natural gas and comms company founded in 1985 that became the US 7th largest publicly held corporation. This is an extract of their annual report of the year 2000:
‘We treat others as we would like to be treated. […] We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely.”
Enron was sentenced for institutional and creative accounting fraud and shareholders lost it all. They promote a culture of greed and even suspended the code of ethics to keep going with some, let’s say, weird partnerships.
Leaders must provide ethical leadership. The values and behaviour of senior leadership are essential in shaping organizational culture.
This is because, generally speaking, there are three ways how individuals face ethical dilemmas and decide what is right and what to do:
- Pre-conventional individuals: those who only behave to avoid punishment. We can summarize this by saying ‘one hand washes the other’.
- Conventional individuals: People who look outside for rules, laws and expectations of significant others to decide what to do. This is the most common place to be.
- Principle individuals: those guided by their principles of justice and rights.
Therefore, since the most of us are placed in the conventional level, we need role models.
Modelling is a powerful mean to transmit values, attitudes and behaviours. What we do punish or reward while working will be the reference. Seeing consequences facilitates learning, not only in our company but also in our society.
The question for you, leader, is what kind of behaviours are you promoting with your attitude and ethics? What kind of behaviours are you rewarding in your team?
Remember, the feeling of being above the law is contagious. So do behaviours responding to the culture and attitudes you want to promote in your organization.
What kind of culture do you want to promote? Because your behaviours and attitudes will shape the culture.