By Kirk McCarley
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 recently while doing some continuing education training finding it to be as fresh now as it was then.
Here’s my story. 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 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 governance.
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 organizational charter I was required to classify positions in accordance to internal and external compensatory 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 feeling targeted and jeopardized.
Through the Grace of God and a devotion to upholding a standard of behavior attempting to respect honor and principle I survived a difficult couple of years until such time that I was in a position to move to Florida and launch my coaching practice fulltime. Although it was valuable educationally, 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 their 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 forsake 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.”
Next: “A Platitude on Ethics, Part 2: Should I Really Get Another Job?
A graduate of the University of North Texas, Kirk McCarley is a Certified Professional Coach as well as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and SHRM-CP Certified. He also is a Production Assistant for both college football and basketball for ESPN and leads group cycling classes as a Certified Spinning instructor. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, theseedsowercoach.com, or call 314-677-8779.