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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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Seven Practical Applications of Ethics

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An organization and each of its employees, wherever they may be located, must conduct their affairs with uncompromising honesty and integrity. Business ethics are no different than personal ethics and the same high standard applies to both. As a representative of their company all employees are required to adhere to the highest standard, regardless of local custom.

Everyone is responsible for their own behavior. We live in a culture where responsibility and accountability are minimized, with individuals hiding behind the label of “victim” as an excuse for their actions. There is right and wrong, black and white, but many would prefer to operate in shades of gray. As long as they do not cross the line, they feel that they are fine. As long as no one catches them, their behavior is acceptable.

Individuals operating in shades of gray feel ethics are not as important as the legality of their actions and think the ends justify the means. After all it is a results-driven environment and it is the results that matter.

While certain actions might be legal, they may also be unethical and reflect poorly on an organization as well as the individuals responsible for them. If these actions are tolerated and allowed, an organizational culture is created that undermines the customer’s confidence in the company, as well as its products and services and ultimately destroys its reputation in the marketplace.

Allowing even a single unethical activity can pull a thread that ultimately unravels the cloth of an organization. Actions have consequences and unethical actions and their consequences can have a rippling effect within a company. If all employees understand this and apply it to their actions and the actions of their colleagues, it will result in a stronger company. Both the company and an employees’ ongoing employment within it require compliance to this philosophy.

Ethical behavior cannot be legislated. It is a combination of strong values and the impact of the example set by peers and superiors. To better appreciate ethics, individuals must understand how the following factors interact with each other to impact their actions, behaviors and decisions:


Values are the principles or standards of personal behavior. Most values are shaped early in life by parents, families, friends, teachers and spiritual leaders. As individuals mature, their values can be changed or biased by their experiences and the choices they make in life. Specific examples of sound values include honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, fairness and a sense of justice.

A primary value possessed by most individuals is acknowledging the difference between what is right and what is wrong. How one acts on this knowledge is the core of both value-based and ethical behaviors.


Norms are the guidelines or guiding values that define behavior in specific situations. Norms governing employee behavior can be formed by organizations, informally created by groups, or established by individual values. Some examples of organizational norms include:

  • Every employee is 100% responsible for their behavior.
  • Ethics are ethics.
  • There is no difference between business and personal ethics.
  • Ethics are critically important in both business and in life.
  • Employees are expected to act ethically 100% of the time.
  • Whether they will be discovered or not, employees must always do the right thing.
  • There are leadership obligations, which include giving clear direction and teaching fellow employees by example.
  • It is an employee’s obligation to keep those they supervise acting ethically.
  • Employees are expected to stop unethical acts, even if they think it will jeopardize their job.


A conviction is a firmly held belief or opinion and can include one’s values, beliefs, corporate values and norms. A company’s strong ethical program relies upon employees’ uncompromising belief or conviction in “always doing the right thing.” This underlying conviction is the foundation for success.


Integrity means acting unbiased by self-interest and within the framework of one’s values and norms. One of the most generally accepted norms of organizational behavior is that an individual’s private interests or desire to benefit personally should not influence how they carry out their responsibilities. An employee is corrupt when he or she damages the company by deriving personal benefits and gains from their decisions and actions.


Ethics is the collection of values, norms, standards and principles that provides a framework for action. Action requires individuals to make choices. Ethical choices often create personal dilemmas, where decisions may conflict with one’s personal values and beliefs. The bottom line in ethical behavior is determined by the individual choices one makes in both their business dealings and in their personal lives.

Ethical choices and decisions are unquestionably difficult to make. Some may impact profitability, employment or even personal relationships. The dilemma often lies in defining “the right thing,” which is not always obvious. This often involves determining and weighing the various consequences specific decisions will have on the problem or situation. Ethical decision making is further complicated by all involved parties emotionally arguing their positions. Emotional arguments are subjective and tend to charge the decision making environment. The right choice or “the right thing” will be an objective choice free of emotionalism. Once identified, the decision should be straightforward.


It takes courage to be ethical in the current cultural environment. Ethical decisions can be unpopular because of their impact on both the company and other employees. They can be stressful because of a fear of retribution or reprisals within the company and from others.

Courage must come from the uncompromising convictions, values and beliefs supported by an organization’s ethical philosophies and reinforced by the belief in “always doing the right thing.”


Integrity or ethical behavior is guided by each of the factors discussed within this lesson including values, norms, convictions, integrity, choices and courage. None is independent of the others and each supports the others. They are what define your behaviors as either ethical or unethical. Together they provide you with the guidelines that define your behavior.

Excerpt: Business Ethics: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 19.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about improving business ethics in your company, refer to Business Ethics: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.
Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog | 800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

February 7, 2012 at 11:12 am

The Person in Charge Must Be Concerned About the Details

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The United States Nuclear Navy has an enviable record for engineering excellence and safety. From its inception in the 1940s, Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) established exacting standards for every aspect of its operation. Not content to remain

Admiral Hyman Rickover on an Inspection Tour

behind a desk, he was present on the bridge of every newly launched vessel as it underwent its sea trials. He was truly immersed in the details of each project and every mission, and left nothing to chance. This included interviewing every naval officer before they were allowed into the nuclear program. He stated that, “The man in charge must concern himself with details. If he does not consider them important, neither will his subordinates. Yet ‘the devil is in the details.’ It is hard and monotonous to pay attention to seemingly minor matters. In my work I probably spend about 99 percent of my time on what others may call petty details. Most managers would rather focus on lofty policy matters. But when the details are ignored, the project fails. No infusion of policy or lofty ideals can then correct the situation. To maintain proper control one must have simple and direct means to find out what is going on. There are many ways of doing this; all involve constant drudgery. For this reason those in charge often create ‘management information systems’ designed to extract from the operation the details a busy executive needs to know. Often the process is carried too far. The top official then loses touch with his people and with the work that is actually going on.”

Colin Powell (U.S. Army) noted, “Sometimes details are neglected because they’re not sexy enough… Running anything is primarily an enormous amount of grubby detail work and very little excitement, so deal making is kind of romantic, sexy. That’s why you have deals that make no sense. Good leaders don’t view details… as grubby. They view the mastery of detail as an integral part of leadership.”

As military leaders, both Rickover and Powell recognized the value of being immersed in details. They understood that in a combat environment, overlooked details can be costly in many ways, especially regarding the lives of the men and women who serve under them. This immersion in detail was also observed in other military leaders, including Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant and Robert Wood (Sears).

A desire to immerse themselves in details isn’t limited to military leaders. It was observable in the behaviors of other great leaders, including Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Elizabeth Arden (Elizabeth Arden), and Estée Lauder (Estée Lauder) to cite a few.

William Boeing (Boeing) began his career in the lumber business before he saw the future of aviation. In addition to Boeing he also created the United Aircraft Corporation and United Airlines as subsidiaries. (The Federal government ultimately broke-up Boeing as a monopoly in 1934.) As Boeing grew his aviation business, “[he] continued to run his timber business and was able to absorb details of both lumber and airplane enterprises. Years later, he could recall the description and topography of a parcel of land and the species and quality of timber that it would yield. He believed in details and told his managers that many a wrong decision stemmed from a detail overlooked or incorrectly interpreted.”

Another aviation pioneer, Juan Trippe (Pan American Airways) immersed himself in every detail of his emerging business. “When [he] got Pan American Airways into the air in 1927 he knew every wrinkle in its flying equipment (a lone tri-motored Fokker), every part in his stockroom, every wavelet in the go-mile mail route between Key West and Havana.”

When viewed from the perspective of “ruthless efficiency,” the practice of immerging oneself in the details of managing a successful enterprise makes absolute sense. Large and widespread companies by their very nature, creates potential waste and duplication. This is underscored by a report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in March 2010 entitled, Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue, which reported wide spread waste and duplication of efforts throughout the Federal government, costing taxpayers up to $200 billion annually.

The great leaders intuitively understood the potential for waste within large organizations, and immersed themselves in the details of their businesses to increase efficiencies, drive down costs and improve profitability. John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) is a notable example. “Of all the lessons John absorbed from his father, perhaps none surpassed in importance that of keeping meticulous accounts… The titan had to know to the last pipe, to the last oil storage tank at each of his refineries, to the last Standard Oil tanker at sea, to the last penny in Standard Oil’s Accounts Receivable, and to the last of whatever else he could think of in his business, where everything was, how the item or person served his purposes, and their exact value.”

Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions) openly admits her lack of management acumen. She delegates that aspect of the business to professional managers within her organization. Yet, this does not stop her from immersing herself in the details of her business. “Everything is personal at Harpo. While Oprah does delegate operational decisions, she is all over her content. Before O gets shipped to the printer, she reads every word and scrutinizes every picture—typically working on the magazine, via her office PC, from 3 P.M. to 8 P.M. Tuesday through Thursday and all day Friday, when she doesn’t shoot her show. ‘She’s into every little… thing, the commas, the exclamation points,’ says Gayle King, who, as editor-at-large, is Oprah’s eyes and ears at the Manhattan-based magazine.”

Winfrey’s attention isn’t just limited to her content. She personally signs all checks and pays close attention to how her money is being spent.

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the attention to detail exhibited by  of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills.Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Four Building Blocks of Intelligent Decision-Making

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Decision-making is a cognitive process leading to the selection of a course of action among alternatives. Whether an action or opinion, every decision making process produces a final choice.

The decision making process begins when an action needs to be taken, but one doesn’t know exactly what to do or where to begin. The reasoning process can be rational or irrational, with most decisions based on explicit or implied assumptions.

Building Block One: Applying The Principles of Decision Making

Judiciously applying specific decision making principles will more often than not make the difference between taking effective or ineffective action. These principles help ensure that all involved stay focused on their specific work-related duties as well as the overall objective the company is pursuing.

When it comes to effective decision making, paying close attention to the organizational universe is not optional, but critical. The attributes contributing to good decisions can translate directly into tangible benefits when applied to the broader framework of business-related operations. Each decision made should serve as a learning experience, whether or not it proves wise.

How is an effective decision made? Maintaining an understanding of the basic role of one’s organization can support thoughtful planning and processes for decision making objectives, which tend to justify the future course of the company.

There are 10 basic steps to follow when a decision has to be made. These include:

  1. Identify the purpose of the decision. What exactly is the problem to be addressed and why does it need to be solved?
  2. Gather information. What factors does the problem involve?
  3. Identify principles with which to judge the alternatives. What standards and judgment criteria should the solution meet?
  4. Brainstorm and list a wide variety of possible choices.
  5. Generate as many likely solutions as possible.
  6. Evaluate each choice in terms of its consequences, using predetermined standards and judgment criteria to determine the pros and cons of each alternative.
  7. Settle upon the best alternative. This becomes much easier once the above steps have been undertaken.
  8. Translate the decision into a specific action or plan of action steps.
  9. Carefully execute the plan.
  10. Evaluate the outcome of the decision and subsequent action steps. Within this process it is important to identify the lessons learned. This is an important step for further development of more effective decision making skills and judgment.

Building Block Two: Creating an Objectives Hierarchy

The first step in the process is to identify the purpose of the decision making effort: What is the problem and why does it need to be solved?

In order to achieve this end it is important to generate, record and display an objectives hierarchy by creating a list in outline format. (Software applications are also available that allow individuals or groups to create organizational charts that work well in generating visually appealing objectives hierarchies.)

In establishing an objectives hierarchy it is essential to gather as much information as possible to identify the factors involved in the problem. Objectives should flow from “Why?” at higher levels to “How?” at lower levels. Higher-level objectives tend to be broad, inclusive, and even ambiguous, lower-level objectives more specific, which are mapped to real or actual organizational and workplace attributes or characteristics.

The objectives hierarchy should be inclusive, representing a mix of stakeholder views, and not make value judgments in respect to one objective over another.

Building Block Three: Designing Alternatives

For each objective or group of objectives within the hierarchy, it is important to identify the types of actions that would yield the optimal effect.

When designing alternatives, various objectives should have been detailed and considered within the hierarchy. With enough specificity, some may be flagged for specific action or categorized as activity-driven.

Designing alternatives tends to occur in two phases: identifying the principles by which to judge the alternatives—i.e. the standards solutions should meet—and brainstorming, or listing actual potential solutions.

Nine Steps for Identifying Alternatives:

  1. For each objective or group of objectives in the hierarchy, individuals identify the types of actions that would have the desired effect.
  2. Causal pathways among identified variables are reviewed. How might favorable interventions occur in any of these pathways?
  3. Two or more options for addressing each objective are defined. These may be different types of activities, different levels, strategies, or approaches for the same activity type, or modifications to ongoing related activities. If there is already a proposed action, the activities that comprise it are detailed in terms of how they align with the measured criteria in the objectives.
  4. Specific actions are grouped into alternatives. If there are competing objectives (perhaps reflecting different stakeholder values), alternatives can be developed that favor different groupings of objectives. In other words, different balances are sought among objectives in each alternative.
  5. Conversely, the same balance of objectives by different groupings of actions can be striven for.
  6. If based on the effects analysis a revision of alternatives is needed, it is wise to look for simple adjustments first. If major revisions are needed, the objectives hierarchy and decision making model should be revisited to determine whether erroneous or inconsistent logic led to problems.
  7. An open mind should be maintained, with preconceptions about what is the “best choice” not allowed to limit any or all solution options.
  8. For each alternative, specifics as to how, where, what, and when actions will occur should be outlined. Here it is important to make detailed assumptions about each modeled action early and explicitly in order to minimize confusion when placing this information into a structured decision making model.
  9. Results are recorded and activities plotted on a decision making map where appropriate.

Building Block Four: Evaluating Each Choice

For each alternative, it is best to be as specific as possible in terms of how, where, what, and when actions will occur. An analysis of effects may suggest modification of one or more alternatives or the creation of additional alternatives. If the latter is the case it will be prudent to return to the first stage of the process.

It is important to apply standards and judgment criteria (a set of indicators) to determine the pros and cons of each alternative. When the best alternative is identified, a process overview of the selected option is conducted.

During this decision making and planning arena, it is important to make certain that an action or set of actions is specifically geared toward achieving the objectives identified.

Within the evaluation or overview stage, further details can come to light that can either be added to particular action steps or grouped into a different set of alternatives.

Excerpt: Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 18.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about effective decision-making techniques, refer to Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

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