Demand Ethical Behavior

Display ethical behaviour - People Development Network
Display ethical behaviour - People Development Network
S Chris Edmonds
S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He shares insights on organizational culture, servant leadership, employee engagement, and workplace inspiration. He writes books and articles and records podcasts. In his free time, he's a working musician with the Brian Raine band in Denver, CO.
S Chris Edmonds


Speaker & consultant with own firm & @kenblanchard. Author: The Culture Engine & 6 other books. @BrianRaineBand mate. @iStock photog. Blogger, pod/video caster.
S Chris Edmonds
S Chris Edmonds

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Leaders can demand ethical behaviour

Back in the day of the alleged FIFA kickbacks, I was sadly amazed by the the response of Sepp Blatter the FIFA president, up for and successful in re-election within hours, who said, “We cannot constantly supervise everyone in football . . . you cannot ask everyone to behave ethically.”

This is not just a FIFA leadership problem. Many company, region, department, and team leaders around the globe believe the same thing: “Leaders cannot ask their people to behave ethically. I am not responsible for whether my leaders or team members behave in an ethical manner.”

Here’s another example. In Denver, a former sheriff’s department investigator reported that he was told by his captain to avoid logging into evidence a videotape of inmate mistreatment. If the tape wasn’t logged into the evidence system, the incident would not be investigated further. The department has suffered systemic problems including poor training of officers and mistreatment of inmates for years.

So who is responsible for ethical behavior across your organization? The reality is that if you are a leader, YOU are, indeed, responsible for the creation of productive workplaces that treat everyone with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction.  In NASCAR for example, the crew chief is often the one who has to take the suspension or penalty for something the team did to skirt the rules, no matter who actually took the action to do so.  It is assumed that the chief is in charge and influences the team.

Where leaders create clear performance and value expectations and hold people accountable for those, results and profits steadily grow. Where leaders do not create clear expectations of performance and of citizenship, a void is created. In the absence of solid leadership, we humans will fail. We are flawed, we make mistakes, and we are tempted to take advantage where we shouldn’t. Many resist, some don’t.

Leaders can absolutely ask, expect, and,  yes, even demand, that everyone behave ethically. How?

First, formalize performance standards and values expectations setting clear ground rules.  Now for the hard work – holding everyone accountable for both.

Model these standards in every interaction. Be a champion of your desired culture. Then hold others accountable too, by gathering performance and values data (from peers, employees and customers,) feeding it back, and coaching players to success.

It’s not easy, but it is the right thing to do, and takes more courage than abdicating responsibility for your team.


  • garygruber says:

    I don’t believe you can “demand” ethical behavior any more than you can legislate morality. You can expect it, model it as you say, but demanding could well be off putting to many employees. You can even have ethical behavior as a standard expectation in hiring in the first place and then encourage, support and reinforce it at every turn.

  • Thanks for your comment! My belief and experience is different than yours, Gary. Just as leaders can demand results, leaders can demand civility, ethical behavior, cooperative interaction, etc. through an organizational constitution.

  • thrivinglife says:

    We’re venturing into semantics here. As a practical matter an expectation becomes a demand, whether vocalized or not, when it is reinforced by performance standards with which specific behavior is compared and held to account. It’s nothing more than tough love given right where the rubber meets the road.

  • yuvarajah says:

    I fully agree. As leaders we can and should demand, uncompromisingly. Don’t make it sound like a hairy fairy tale stuff. Walk the talk and ensure others do the same, irrespective of whoever crosses the line. That’s the difficult part of leadership challenge, most only pay lip service and when the tire meets the road, their true colours shine out.

  • Thank you for your insights! Great leaders don’t stop at demanding – and getting – the results required. They also set high standards of citizenship, relationships, integrity, and teamwork – and model those, coach those, praise aligned behaviors, and re-direct misaligned behaviors. Uncompromisingly!


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