A Platitude on Ethics

October 28, 2019


Today, more than ever perhaps, we crave leaders who demonstrate high standards of personal conduct and integrity.  The preponderance of information we see, read, and hear seems to argue a reality that is otherwise:  Violations of ethical standards.  Investigations.  Whistleblower testimony. 


The desire for moral and trustworthy leadership is a yearning throughout society:  in our organizations, in our government, in our schools, in our homes.  It is a subject that to me is serious as well as personal.   


Several years ago I was completing requirements for Life and Career Coach training.  One of the topics I was required to write on was ethics in the coaching industry.  I came across that paper a few days ago in doing some continuing education training and found it to be as fresh now as it was then.  Thanks for allowing me to share, especially with a longer than usual treatise.


In 2015 I was the Human Resources Director for a large public organization in the Midwest.  Although our institution did not have a formal function of a Chief Ethics Officer, I more or less also acted in that capacity.  Earlier that year a new administration had been elected to lead the organization.  As is often the case when a power shift occurs, this team arrived with fresh ideas and a commitment to correct the “errors” of previous authorities. 


Without digressing into too much detail, the new leadership team presented an agenda for creating job assignments and titles, some for those who played key roles in the election campaign.  As part of my job responsibilities as HR Director by organization charter I was required to classify positions in accordance to internal and external equity.  In one instance I responded with a recommendation that was not favorable to the desires of the Administration although some alternative remedies for achieving a similar result existed and were shared.  Rather than pursue these ideas, a policy was put forward and passed which left little doubt was intended to retaliate against my recommendation.  This action not only placed me in an uncomfortable position of ethical compromise, but launched a period of time of feeling targeted and jeopardized. 


Through the Grace of God and a devotion to upholding a standard of action and behavior attempting to mirror respect of honor and principle I survived a difficult couple of years until such time that I was in a position to launch my coaching practice fulltime.  Although it was a valuable education, it was aggravating and stressful.  Through it, however, I gained an even stronger appreciation for the courage of those who “blow the whistle,” and possess and cling to a moral compass.


We live in a libelous time.  The tendency can be to seek what benefits one or a few personally vs. what best serves the good of the whole.  Self-preservation is paramount; the risk of accountability in many cases feared.  Yet in spite of all these draws and pulls to compromise integrity, the leaders who stand above the rest are those who embrace a core set of ethical practices. 


The passion for virtue reminded me of a piece from a 2002 article written by former college football coach Bill Curry entitled “It’s All in the Correct Response.”  In it Coach Curry shares a hypothetical (perhaps) conversation between a head coach and his assistant.


The assistant pulls you aside and asks,

“Did you say we were going to follow every single rule?”

“Yes, every one.”

To which he says, “What if we get fired?”

And the answer is, “Then we’ll get another job.”


Ethical behavior is so integral to the coaching, or any other industry, that it would seem far better to consider alternative employment opportunity than to sellout to any extent.  If we possess a strong drive towards our own self-regulation, then enhanced regulation should not be an issue. 


Have I always been 100% ethical in my professional life?  Have I made a personal copy on the office copy machine a time or two?  Have there have been some meals here or there with a vendor?  Having confessed I will, however, admit to having improved over time as I hopefully gained insight, responsibility, wisdom, and maturity.  And I’m also humbled enough to admit that I, like many others, was always just an instance away from losing momentary focus and slipping up.  Yet, I am aware, aware now more than ever. 


My intent as a coach is to first model ethical conduct with my clients through an attitude of professionalism, moral integrity, full disclosure of expectation acknowledgement, and active listening to discern and understand their needs.  Second, my initial review of the International Coaching Federation Code of Ethics would indicate that it seems to be an excellent template to provide to a customer to help establish common ground.  Finally, I would want to achieve a clear understanding with the client that differences of opinion are encouraged and welcomed and that just because we may differ on a topic is an inconclusive test as to whether, “I’m ethical and you’re not.” 


Texas Instruments is an electronics company that has been in business for more than 60 years.  In their business dealings they take a six step progressive approach to ethics that I’ve found to be quite helpful in making sense of what can be a “grey” subject.


1.      Is the action legal?  If it’s not then don’t do it and the test ends there.

2.      Does the action comply with our rules, policies, and values? Again, if not the test ends at this step.

3.      Although you may not like the decision you had to make, will you be comfortable and guilt free having made it?  Again, if not, don’t do it.

4.      How would the action and the ramifications of it read in the newspaper, sound on the radio, or look on the internet?  What would my family or friends think of my decision?

5.      If an immediate answer is required and you need time to process your response, always say no until there’s a chance to more carefully consider the situation.

6.      If in doubt, ask.  Keep asking until you get an answer.  Seek the wisdom of someone you admire for demonstrating high ethical standards and a strong sense of right and wrong. 



I believe that ethics and conduct have a strong correlation to professionalism…and civility.  As a further test I submit this original test developed eight or nine years ago.  It would seem to have application to coaching as well as many business environments. 


1.      Do you carry through with what you say you are going to do?

2.      Can you be trusted?  How do you know?  Are you approachable?

3.      When was the last time someone came to seek your advice?

4.      What does your body language say to others?  Are you inviting?  Do you text or talk on the phone in the presence of others?

5.      Who mentors you?  Who are you a mentor to?  If you’re not involved in a mentoring relationship should you be?

6.      What does your body language say about you?  Are you guilty of scowling and frowning? 

7.      If you work in an environment with others are you respected by them?  How do you know?  Why do they respect you?

8.      If you are a supervisor, do you know your staff members?  What do you know about their families and situation?  How often do you get out and wander around? 

9.      What does your written correspondence say about you?  Is it friendly and professional or does it have words that put people on the offensive?  Can you craft a letter that has negative information without using a “no” word?  How?

10.  When sharing ideas at a meeting, do you “add” to what’s been opined rather than disputing it?  That way all members feel that they have been a part of the final decision that’s reached.


Sometimes our actions to try to do the right thing are vindicated.  I am blessed to have the opportunity today to coach a diverse and interesting array of unique people in pursuing their goals.  The leader of that last organization I was with now serves a federal prison sentence for fraud and bribery.


The Seed Sower