You may never have heard of Potter Stewart, but he was the guy who retired from the U.S. Supreme Court, leading to Sandra Day O'Connor becoming the first female on the court.
Potter died in 1985, but I came across a quote from him that I thought would be beneficial when writing about becoming a better leader in the workplace.
"Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do," Stewart said.
When we talk about leadership in the workplace, we think of someone like a manager who collects a bigger paycheck, gets an office and maybe extra perks like a personal parking space.
But to me, leadership resides with everyone in the workplace. From the newest employee to the most senior executive, leadership cannot be "someone else's job." That's because each worker must lead in doing what is right. If just one person doesn't, then everyone is affected.
Perhaps morale begins to suffer because people are treating one another uncivilly. Or, maybe people begin to look the other way when someone is being sexually harassed or bullied. In some of the worst cases, no one speaks up -- or even joins in -- when customers are being ripped off.
If you feel that your ethics have slipped, I don't think you're alone. People feel stressed and depressed and fed up with the constant divisiveness in this world and that may lead to "no one else cares so why should I."
But it can stop. You can make it stop. You can resolve that you're going to behave more ethically at work, that you're going to step up and be a leader. Here are some things to think about:
- Make it clear that you care. If you see someone being mistreated, let it be known that it's not OK.
- Be patient and calm. Yelling at someone who is behaving badly isn't going to solve anything. And it's not going to stop the behavior overnight. Simply state that it's wrong in a calm way and repeat the message every time you see it happening.
- Be supportive. Don't abandon someone who is standing up for what is right or believe that your silence is showing your support. Speak up. Through your actions and your words, show support for ethical behavior.
- Ask questions. Being accusatory or judgmental will not help you at work. If you see a problem, ask questions. "Why did you disagree so strongly with Rob and call him an idiot?" To be a leader, you must constantly be learning. Always get the facts before jumping to conclusions. Then, try to educate: "Rob seemed very upset after your comment. We need him to be focused on the project because he's so creative. This kind of interaction could really damage that. No one should be called names."
- Stay positive. Don't let yourself become cynical when confronted with the unethical behavior of others. Always do an internal assessment of what you believe to be important and recommit yourself to that behavior. Interact with others who also have a strong ethical compass so that you feel supported.
Finally, remember that if you want your workplace to be more ethical, then you need to consistently model that behavior every day. Before long, you may find that you are truly leading others to be better at their jobs -- and better to one another.