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The Impact of Unethical Behavior
by Sandra Trice Gray

See the complete list of articles by Sandra Gray.

Short-sighted actions can trigger long-term repercussions.

I recently attended an association?s business meeting during which the board chair stalled the agenda prior to voting for the new chair-elect. When it came time for each state ? which had agreed to cast all its votes for the favored candidate ? split the votes and cast 77 votes for the other candidate.

When the state?s delegation protested the reporter?s incorrect representation, the delegation was ruled out of order by the chair. As a result, the first candidate, almost a shoe-in at the beginning of the meeting, lost by 50 votes. Many members of the delegate were outraged by what they perceived as a tainted election and said that they were going to withhold their dues and would not support any future actions of the newly elected officer.

In another example of questionable behavior, I recently learned that an association?s chief executive officer decided not to meet with a complaining constituent. A support staff member was perplexed, since the CEO had always met with other unhappy constituents. The only difference the staff member could see was that the individual in this situation was non-Caucasian. The support staff person asked a few questions and, in a moment of heated anger, was fired by the CEO.

What are the potential results of incidents based on real or perceived unethical behavior on the part of leaders? The ramifications are often the same whether the behavior is in fact unethical behavior on the part of leaders? The ramifications are often the same whether the behavior is in fact unethical or only appears as such. Laura L. Nash, in "Ethics Without the Sermon" (Harvard Business Review, Volume 56, Number 6, 1981), proposed that leaders ask themselves 12 questions when reacting to ethical situations. Here?s a modification of those questions.

  1. Have I described the situation factually?
  2. How would I describe the situation if on the other side of the issue?
  3. How did this issue become a problem?
  4. To whom and what do I owe loyalty as an individual and as a member of the association?
  5. What is the desired outcome of this decision/action?
  6. What are the potential results of my decision/action?
  7. Who might be hurt by this decision/outcome?
  8. Can a meeting be arranged with individuals who potentially would be affected to address their underlying concerns before a decision is made or an action is taken?
  9. Am I sure that the decision/action will be as sound a year from now as it appears today?
  10. Could I convey the decision/action to the board, members, my family, or communities without reservation?
  11. How would my decision/action be characterized if understood? If misunderstood?
  12. Are there circumstances that permit deviations from my proposed decision or action?

If we let these questions become part of our decision-making processes, then we?ll be closer to avoiding the potentially harmful consequences surrounding the scenarios above. It?s when we don't think through the potential impact of our decisions and behaviors that major damage is more likely to occur. And no leader can afford to forget for one minute that our associations' members and other constituents are constantly looking on, noting when decisions are made and actions are taken with questionable motives.


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