10½ Ways to Color Outside the Lines without Crossing the Line

by | Jun 11, 2012 | High Road Accountability and Ethics, High Road Leadership

As a leader, you want employees to “color outside the lines.” This means that they are creative, open to new ideas, and think for themselves.

 As a leader you do not want employees to “cross the line.” This means the person does something that goes against the spirit of your policies, bends the rules in their favor, or coerces a subordinate to cheat.

 There is a very fine line between these two behaviors, so the High Road® Institute is providing this list of 10 ½ strategies that embed a commitment to ethical and accountable conduct into your cultural norms.

  1. Implement a “lessons learned” attitude, so whenever an employee makes an error in judgment, the lessons about why it happened will never be forgotten.
  2. Communicate x100 in all directions. Communicate the reason for your policies, standards, rules and decisions. Allow people at every level to communicate openly and honestly.
  3. Foster honest and open dialogue formally and informally. Only micromanagers, scammers, and con artists hate honesty and transparency.
  4. Foster honest 360 degree feedback, formally and informally. Only dictators, egoists, and criminals abhor feedback. Ask for the truth and then speak the truth.
  5. The more creative and diverse the input, the smarter and stronger the decision will be. Before deciding, ask: What could go wrong? and How can somebody undermine this?
  6. Whenever an idea, goal, or plan challenges the status quo, the more you must emphasize the need to proceed ethically. Then follow up to make sure people have.
  7. Until you have clearly defined the expectations and standards, you cannot hold employees accountable to acting ethically. Speak frequently and widely about your expectations. Model the behaviors you seek every day.
  8. Held every single employee to the same high standards. Failure to do this assures that people will follow the habits of the least ethical employee.
  9. The more aligned your mission is with your values, the easier it is for your employees to act ethically. Frequently check for misalignment and fix any that you find.
  10. Whenever an employee crosses the line and engages in questionable activity, he or she (regardless of title and tenure) must be called to account for their actions. Doing this sends a message that you are watching and paying attention. Whenever an employee does something that shows a commitment to high ethics, recognize the act and extol it to everyone.

10½. Failure to be concerned about a reputation for ethics will guarantee employees make questionable decisions and take unethical actions. Failure to talk about ethics and model what it means will ultimately harm your reputation.