Another time I was ordered to drag
payables to 60 days despite contractual
terms that required a 45-day payment.
In this dilemma, I met with suppliers
and renegotiated the contract. Some
agreed to the 15-day drag. Some
raised their price to cover the cost
of the delay. Others needed a swing
loan and I assisted by providing their
bank with confirmation of a long-term
contract to support the loan. Dragging
the payables from 45 to 60 days
without interaction with the suppliers
would be unethical, but I was able to
find an appropriate way to satisfy the
request and honor commitments.
What if an inappropriate request
comes from a peer, not a boss? There
can still be perceived pressure to help
them. A student told me about such
an experience. On her way to a class
that required students to sign in, she
received a friend’s text asking that she
sign her in at the class. She decided to
pretend not to receive the text until
after class was over.
After hearing about the dilemma, I
suggested that she should not run and
hide from ethical issues. Sure, these
dilemmas can create considerable
discomfort, but it’s best to face them
head-on. These are opportunities to let
others know what you stand for. She
could have responded immediately to
her friend saying, “No, that’s wrong.
Don’t ask me to do that. I would never
ask you to do something wrong.”
My guess is that her so-called friend
would never ask her to do that
When You’re the Boss
There’s another aspect to the
standing up to power dilemma.
It’s when you are the power. First,
don’t make unethical requests of
your employees. Period. As the
boss, your employees might give
more deference than you deserve.
Obviously, pleasing the boss is
important and in that zeal, they can
misinterpret questions as orders.
Once, while touring a
manufacturing plant which I
supervised, I asked why a wrapping
machine wasn’t located closer to the
shipping department since wrapping
immediately preceded product
shipping. I merely asked out of
ignorance, but when I returned six
months later, the wrapping machine
was in the shipping department. I
asked why and was told, “You said
to move it." I learned an important
rule of communication: ask the
recipient to tell you what they heard.
That double communication can
avoid a lot of misunderstandings.
Most organizations have ethics
resources to whom you can turn to
when you are asked to do something
wrong. Use them. Use the Compliance
Line if you cannot find the needed help
elsewhere. Progressive organizations
have integrity champions scattered
throughout the organization. Learn
who they are and meet with them.
A final word of advice is to plan
ahead for the day when you are faced
with this dilemma. Build friendships
throughout the organization. Strong
relationships are always helpful and
the social capital is very helpful when
standing up to power. Be ethical in
little things. Habitual ethical conduct
will eventually manifest itself in the
big issues as well. Build a reputation
for character and integrity. Attend
the ethics training. Offer to teach
it. Become an integrity resource for
others. Your company and the entire
industry will be better because of your
Brad Yarbrough is the Owner and CEO of Pilgrim
Land Services, a right of way services company in
Oklahoma City. With over 35 years experience in oil
and gas, he has clients nationwide and an extensive
network of landmen and agents.
...these dilemmas can create considerable
discomfort, but it’s best to face them head-
on. These are opportunities to let others
know what you stand for.