To get around both, people say:
- It’s not my job.
- Someone must have authorized that.
- It must be okay if my boss is doing it.
- I just don’t know enough to step in.
- I don’t want to get involved in something messy.
When we know something is wrong and don’t intervene, we become culpable. So whatever happens in the near or long-term, we share the blame.
The power of fear
Lots of bad things go on at work:
- Bullying and harassment
- Lying and records tampering
- Misuse of technology
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Collusion and fraud
We may witness things that are a big deal or seemingly minor, like the difference between a bold-face lie and a white one. Both are, of course, lies.
We may sense that something isn’t right or see it clear as day. In both cases, we are faced with a choice—to speak/act or stay silent/do nothing.
There are laws that protect whistle blowers which may be of small comfort. We’re often more concerned about what will happen to us if we “go to someone in authority.” Once we do that, our work life and/or our career likely changes forever.
So we’re faced with what we stand for and who we really are—someone more interested in our own best interest or an advocate for doing what’s right. That’s a question to ask your reflection in the nearest mirror.
No matter where you are on the organization chart, you’re in a position to protect what’s right. Recently, Chris Matthews from MSNBC’s Hardball called attention to those “people with moral authority who perform in a lowly way” when speaking about the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University.
Matthews reminded viewers that there are people in authority who are more interested in protecting what’s good for them and the brand of their organization than doing what’s morally and ethically right for individuals, the community, and/or society.
Jack McCallum, long time writer for Sports Illustrated and grad school friend of mine, recently wrote a column about an interview he’d done with alleged sexual predator, Jerry Sandusky from Penn State, where Jack confessed he’d been fooled about the guy.
Jack shared these insights with a college class he was teaching that included discussion about “group mindset and the power of the brand:”
We do not know all that happened at Penn State, but we know this much: The Football Program, the engine that brings in $50 million profit and defines the school much more than its outstanding academic curriculum, is to be protected at all costs. Over the years — through national championships, expansion of Beaver Stadium, the flood of donor millions and canonization of Saint Joe — that mindset had calcified and become S.O.P. [standard operating procedure], as it does at so many football power palaces.
At some time in the future, I told the members of my class, there’s a good chance they will be asked to choose between protecting the institution and doing the right thing. That choice will not be simple because there is strength in numbers, security in the collective and a selfish investment in group success. Doing the right thing is sometimes the hardest thing when it should be the easiest.
Chris Matthews makes the point that we each need to fight to protect right and undo wrong by bringing it into our roles, whatever they are and wherever we work.
Call to action
It’s time to ask yourself some “What would I do questions?” How far are you willing to go to protect one person, a group, your company, or society? It’s a question that leads to answers about your courage, leadership, and conviction.
I have written before how important it is to be vigilant at work. Always ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?” and “What is this person about?” Both questions will help you see what others don’t, position you to act with confidence, and recognize what’s just and what isn’t.
Photo from bean45cc via Flickr