The Pro’s Code: High Standards and Ethics

Part 3 in a series on professionalism.

Criteria 3: High business standards and ethics. Maintains high standards and quality in all work.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert

Professionals who have the greatest influence are those who aspire to high business standards and make ethical choices and decisions. They hold themselves and others accountable to the same level. Consistent behavior and actions through honesty, authenticity and trust guide the professional to become a person of integrity.

It’s not just the excellent quality of work that people do; it’s how they conduct themselves with others that sets them apart. How would you answer the question, “What standards do you operate by?” What would make it to the top of your list?

Lack of ethics or low standards have been an ongoing topic of conversation for more than two decades, with the likes of Enron, Bernie Madoff and countless others making the headlines through bad behavior. Now, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is in the hot seat. He faces allegations of making false statements to the FBI and being in violation of federal banking rules. His actions hid the real reason for making $1.7 million in payments of a total promised $3.5 million (now known as “hush money” to an unnamed source to cover up an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student while he was a high school coach and teacher more than 25 years ago). When given an opportunity to tell the truth, then tell the truth. The more that is fabricated, the bigger the lies become and the greater the severity of punishment or charge.

Here is a man who reached one of the highest offices in the country and appeared to operate by a solid code of ethics. The sexual abuse case isn’t even under investigation; rather, the financial case is being scrutinized by federal courts…it’s how he paid the money that set off red flags. The irony? Hastert helped to put the Patriot Act rules into place. Clearly, this case is creating thought-provoking conversations in business and law schools  across the country, as students ponder the all important topic of ethics.

All too often, people who get caught in a web of deceit and lies forget that ethics has no double standard. You can’t be unethical in your private life and ethical in your business life. It doesn’t work that way. You are either ethical or you are not. When you try to play the double standard, it eventually catches up with you.

Consider your own ethical beliefs and practices. Are you a person of integrity? How do you practice ethical behavior each day? Who among your colleagues are you holding accountable to higher standards?

The Pro’s Code: Credibility

Part 2 in a series on professionalism.

Criteria 2: Credible. Has integrity and follows through on what has been promised.

CredibilityBookCoverAs a professional, you work hard to establish and maintain a certain level of credibility in the work you do. If you have no credibility, you have nothing at all. Why, then, do people who call themselves “professional” keep ending up in the headlines doing stupid stuff that dismantles their credibility? The answer: They aren’t really professional.

On the topic of credibility, I rely on the wisdom of James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of the book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. Kouzes and Posner have conducted longitudinal studies on the topic of leadership for more than 30 years. My dog-eared copy of the book was added to my business library since it first hit the market in 2003. If you haven’t read this seminal book, then visit Kouze & Posner’s website, The Leadership Challenge, and order a copy of the 2011 Second Edition, along with the companion Strengthening Credibility: A Leader’s Workbook.

Kouzes & Posner asked people what specific behaviors they appreciated in leaders they most admired. Four key traits were revealed:

1. Honest

2. Forward looking

3. Competent

4. Inspiring

Combining the three traits of honest, competent and inspiring leads to what Kouze & Posner call source credibility, meaning that people believe you. This is the true essence of credibility. Each of these behaviors reflects an emotional connection. They represent how admired leaders make people feel.

dolezalSpeaking of honesty…in the news recently, Rachel Dolezal, (now resigned) president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, lost all credibility as her true race, Caucasian, was revealed. She used a few props to portray herself as an African-American woman: An assortment of hairstyles and wigs, adjusting her skin tone to appear “black-ish” as some news commentators quipped, and posing with an older African-American man who she claimed was her father. When asked by an interviewer if she was African-American, she paused and responded, “I don’t understand the question.” What’s not to understand? You either are or you are not. She never admitted the mistake she made, nor did she apologize for lying to and misleading NAACP Spokane chapter members, the national NAACP organization and the general public. Remember, too, that the NAACP, both the Spokane office and the national office, have also lost credibility. Vetting someone takes a few seconds; in the click of a mouse, you can learn just about everything you need to know about that person. The NAACP selection committee would have understood her background better and known she was not qualified as a person of color to lead or represent the organization.

In Matt Laur’s interview of Rachel Dolezal on The Today Show, when asked about how differently things might have turned out if she had been more transparent, Dolezal said, “Overall, my life has been one of survival and the decisions that I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive and to um, you know, carry on in my journey and life continuum.” It got me thinking about two things: 1. Wouldn’t it have been neat to have Al Roker as the interviewer? I love you, Matt, but… 2. Dolezal’s motives became more apparent to me when she used the word “survival.” Ponder that one.

Back to Kouze and Posner’s book on credibility. In a section entitled “Scandals, Betrayals, and Disillusionment,” they say, “The most common reasons for the decline of credibility are the most visible.” In Dolezal’s case, her own visibility – both physical and professional – is the pivotal reason for the decline of her credibility. The truth simply caught up with her. Had she been transparent from the beginning, about her identification with (rather than her portrayal) as a member of) the African-American race and culture, her future may have looked a little different.

Credibility is one of those intangibles in life that can change from moment to moment. The credibility that you enjoy today has taken years to build. Why risk throwing it all way? Protect your credibility; it is one of your greatest assets. It is built on the foundation of your personal/professional character, and your competence as a professional. Never compromise your credibility.


The Pro’s Code: Respect

RespectWelcome to Summer School. It’s the time of year when you either get caught up or you go above and beyond. This Summer, I am sharing my Professional’s Code of Ethics, which contains 14 criteria – topics – of what it takes to be a professional. Where appropriate, I will reference positive or negative examples from the media of these criteria “in action.” Pass the information on to people who can benefit from the wisdom. Share the topics or spark a dialogue with your boss, team or co-workers. Throughout the series, challenge your level of professionalism and help others to elevate their own.

Criteria 1: Respectful of others and oneself. Respect is on the top of the list for a reason. When you respect yourself first, then you can respect others.

How differently would people behave if they first thought “I respect you” or “I respect myself” before they took action? The workplace – and the world – would be significantly improved if we took a little time to think that. Our culture teaches us to be more inclusive and respectful.

In their study, What Is Your Quality of Life at Work? researchers Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, with the Harvard Business Review, surveyed about 20,000 employees worldwide. They measured four basic needs in the workplace: renewal (physical), value (emotional), focus (mental) and purpose (spiritual). Of those surveyed, more than half (54%) indicated that they did not get respect on a regular basis from their leaders. When employees felt respected on the job, they were 55% more engaged in their work. When you show respect to the people you work with, it makes a difference in engagement, performance, satisfaction and retention.

Whether or not you support Caitlyn Jenner’s recent decision to become transgender, you can still respect her for making that important, life-changing decision. You may work with, live next door to, or meet a transgender or an LGBT person. What consideration are you showing? Respect that person for who he is or who she is. When the internet exploded with comments about how Caitlyn Jenner resembled Jessica Lange, Lange commented, “That’s so wonderful.” What a class act. She showed respect.

The true professional is that person who respects others and oneself.

How do you communicate respect to others?

How do you demonstrate inclusion of others?


Time Can Be On Your Side

CompassWhen you hear the words spend and invest, you may automatically think of money. What if you applied those words to time? You would look at time in a very different way.

Spend represents depletion, exhaustion, using up something. It can have a negative connotation. “I spent two full days preparing this report.” It’s time that you will never again have. The blessing – and the curse – of time is that those moments never again return.

Invest reflects a forward intention, movement, planning, strategic thinking. “I invested my time in a spiritual retreat over the weekend.” Investing one’s time symbolizes some benefit, a return on that investment in the future.

Do you have a negative relationship with time (dislike)? or Do you have a positive relationship with time (love)? Is time your enemy or your friend?

If you have a dislike relationship with time, most often you feel like you are continually running out of time, trying to do too much with too little time, finding yourself angry at the time gods each night when you go to sleep (if you’re even getting much sleep).

If you have a love affair with time, you most likely feel complete and fulfilled each day rather than depleted. You know how to pace the work you do and balance it with leisure activities that reconnect you with yourself and loved ones.

Reality check: Most people feel like they don’t have enough hours in the day. You are not alone!

What is your attitude towards time? Do you love it or dislike it? Does it work to your advantage or disadvantage?

If time is currently your enemy (you feel like you never have enough time), then how can you shift your thinking and actions so that you feel like you have enough time each day?

Here are a few suggestions:

Ask. If time is your enemy, ask why.

Assess. Take stock of the things you need to get done in a certain period of time. Are there times of the week, month or year when you feel more of a time crunch (like weekly reporting, monthly sales numbers or at annual tax time)? Are there times of the week, month or year when you feel like you have all the time in the world (annual meeting is over, the sales cycle has ended, new hires are all in place)?

Prioritize. Decide – and do – the most important work first. If you have a performance review scheduled with your boss tomorrow and a monthly report due in three days, which do you prepare for first? The boss, of course.

Delegate. Ask (or hire) someone to help you with small or large tasks, short-term or long-term projects. You may have added some personal burdens that people may not know about, like caring for an aging parent. I don’t know what it is about human nature…we are all so afraid to ask for help. Does it come from that little kid inside of us who – at an early age – wanted to demonstrate how grown up we were by announcing, “I can do it myself!” It is a sign of strength, not weakness, when you know your limitations and ask for help.

Chunk it. Large projects and tasks can be overwhelming. Break down any large assignment into smaller pieces. It’s easier to work on a small part of something big rather than to tackle it all at once.

Do it now. By the time you finish thinking about doing something, you could have gotten it done. The minute you hear yourself saying, “I’ll do that tomorrow,” stop, and ask yourself how long it would take to do it today. Chances are, if you do it today, you’ll sleep better.

Enjoy it. Bertrand Russell said it best: “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” Learn to fill minutes – even hours and days – with time that allows you to enjoy the present moment, whatever it is.

Shifting from disliking time to loving time requires a small investment of your time and attention.