Career Development: Don’t Deal with the Devil by George Burk
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from the author, Captain George Burk, USAF (Ret), Plane crash, burn survivor, motivational speaker, author, writer. Visit his website at www.georgeburk.com or contact Captain Burk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many times it’s simple to do the ethical (right) thing on your own. But what about when your boss tells you do something you instinctively and intuitively know is wrong (unethical)?
Simply stated, it’s a question of “Can I be true to myself and my character” said Elizabeth Doty, founder and president of WorkLore, a San Francisco-based consulting firm.
“Self-praise is for losers. Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.”
John Madden, football coach
Doty surveyed people about how they handle the tension between their core values and their work persona. Doty calls this, “winning the devil’s bargain.” The tension (conflict) between succeeding at work and doing the right (proper) thing can be difficult. Then again, maybe it doesn’t need to be if you know and follow your core beliefs and always take the right course of action. Whether you agree or not, like it or not, your character and integrity is always being tested. In the final analysis, it’s never about money. It is about character, integrity, self-respect and being able to live with yourself.
“If money is your hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability.”
Henry Ford, industrialist
“Most people are so uncomfortable in those situations, they just push it out of their awareness,” she said.
When people take the initiative and confront the issue and know it’s the right thing to do, it improves their productivity. “You begin to feel more alive, creative and resourceful when you feel good inside,” Doty said.
“The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”
So, if or when you’re asked to do something you know is unethical or worse, here are a few suggestions:
Don’t play the game. Do what Doty calls “play the bigger game.” Learn to always place your principles first and have the strength of character to say “no” when asked to compromise them. “It’s not lowering your aspirations. It’s daring to be absolutely honest about the current realities,” she said. The goal’s to create conditions where (more of) the truth is part of the decision-making.
“Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is life itself, it is an insane way to live.”
Eckhart Tolle, writer
Turn the tables. One example Doty used is of the woman who once worked for a telephone company. The woman’s boss asked her to fake documents that would show that customers had asked to switch their phone service. The woman told her boss that she knew he really didn’t want this to happen. Hearing that, the boss then knew he had to do the right thing. “You can bring it back to the long term impact rather than the short term gain,” Doty said.
Beware of “good” organizations. These are the companies and organizations that seem to do the right thing but don’t always do it. Doty interviewed one person who joined a financial service firm because it seemed especially ethical. Soon after she was hired, several senior officers were convicted of embezzlement. When this happens, people who work for that kind of organization often become even more disillusioned and their level of trust is lowered significantly.
Remember the big picture. When you compromise your values, it doesn’t just affect you, it also hurts the organization. What may begin as a small indiscretion can soon grow into something larger and have even more effect on your personal and professional character. When that happens, it can destroy an organization.
“If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we’d all be millionaires.”
Abigail Van Buren, advice columnist
Trust your instincts. It’s impossible to know if every situation is the right one. But your gut, your intuition and instinct can give you a hint. When you have a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach or a question in your mind, that’s a powerful message! Act on it! “When an organization or its employees are running too fast or operating from a culture of fear, that’s when these unethical things happen,” Doty said. Don’t always look to the “external” for answers. Look to your “internals.” Tap into you experiences, instinct and intuition. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Wherever smart people work, doors are unlocked.”
Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder