Acommon ethical dilemma occurs when an authority figure asks you to do
something that is clearly understood
as unethical. Would your actions be
okay because the boss is asking you to
do it or should you stand up to power?
I was once asked by the CEO to report
to a newly-hired Chief Information
Officer (CIO). The CEO thought I
could introduce her to the company
and let her know I’d be available
to explain the company culture, its
processes and procedures. I met my
new boss in New York City and while
walking down Madison Avenue, she
asked me to buy an expensive purse
she saw in a store window. Moreover,
she asked that I use the company
credit card and list it on my expense
account for her subsequent approval.
Having significant clout in the
company, I could have emphatically
told her that what she was asking was
wrong and that we don’t put personal
expenses on the corporate expense
account. Cleverly, I replied, “This must
be a test and I’m not falling for it.
Nice try, but I know that’s wrong.” The
less threatening comeback succeeded
in her flatly dropping the unethical
However, what about a similar
situation happening to an employee
who feels insecure in the organization
and who really needs the job to meet
family and financial obligations? It
would be more difficult to stand up
to their boss and risk being put in the
“dog house” for a long time. Even so,
an employee cannot participate in
unethical conduct. In this case, the “I
know this is a test and I’m not falling
for it” technique is a good tactic.
A second option is to repeat the
request back in a slow, exaggerated
way. This might cause the boss to
take accountability for the action
and rescind the request. Remember
that the excuse “I was just following
orders” is never acceptable.
ETHICAL DILEMMAS 13 Upcoming articles in this series will take
a closer look at each dilemma.
STANDING UP TO POWER
Someone in power is asking you to do something
MADE A PROMISE
Conflicting commitments force you to choose.
You see something wrong. How do you proceed?
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Multiple roles put you at cross purposes.
SUSPICIONS WITHOUT ENOUGH EVIDENCE
You believe something is going on, but you’re not sure.
Achieving justice but by doing something unethical.
SKIRTING THE RULES
Bending a rule for a better outcome.
Misrepresenting the truth for better outcome.
Giving up ethical stance to protect valued relationship.
SACRIFICING PERSONAL VALUES
Living ethically might put burden on others.
When opportunity exists to wield an unfair upper hand.
When you are responsible for a mistake.
You could grant forgiveness, but you don’t know
if you should.