Tag Archives: ethical leadership

Ethical Leadership is More Than Just Being Ethical



Ethics is doing the right things that are required to be done. Ethical leadership is doing the right things that are not required to be done. 

Ethical behavior is considered a surefire precursor to effective leadership and success in business. It means behaving in compliance with society’s laws and accepted mores; which basically boils down to not lying, cheating and stealing.
Possessing solid ethics is not all that challenging or rare. Publicized “perp walks” to the contrary, the business world is filled with thousands of ethical individuals working hard to be effective leaders nd successful in business. That is good, but for the individual who desires to stand out from the crowd and distinguish themselves as an exceptional leader – in all ways – it is not enough to simply comply with the minimum rules of ethics. Ethical leadership requires an effort to do more than other ethical individuals in positions of leadership. The way to do this is to turn ethics from a negative – don’t do this – admonition into actions that create a positive connotation by adopting a pro-active approach to ethics.

Here is what I mean.

Traditionally, being an ethical leader entails doing the right things that are required to be done. However, when it comes to ethical leadership it means going beyond the standards of others and consistently doing the right things that are not required to be done. True ethical leadership is simply doing more than what should be done by doing what can be done.

For example, there is no requirement to give a single-parent extra paid time off to be with a sick child, but it is the right thing to do and a leader who does so is doing more than what is ethically required and this translates into ethical leadership.

Adopting this elevated level of ethical leadership is neither complicated nor a secret. Leaders who exhibit traits of ethical leadership operate in a constant, consistent, respectful, parallel and open manner. Basic ethics does not require that they act this way, but they do, because they understand it is what will distinguish them from other leaders. Those who practice ethical leadership also realize that reciprocal respect, loyalty and commitment will be willingly offered by those working under this philosophy of leadership and, in the long run, it offers them the greatest chance for success.

Companies led by those who have embraced the concept of ethical leadership go well beyond the standard of ethics that an employer is required or expected to offer an employee. This activity is not limited to salary and benefits, but reaches to the very heart of that relationship. The end result is an environment in which people are highly motivated to work and contribute to the success of the leader and organization.

It is no coincidence that companies functioning under the aegis of ethical leadership consistently perform better than those that don’t. That does not mean competing companies are managed by leaders without ethics, but only that those with ethical leadership characteristics are able to outperform the competition on every level.

The world is crowded and competitive. If you want to be more than just part of the crowd trying to compete, you have to stand out and be different. Adopting a philosophy of ethical leadership – not just doing the right things that are required to be done, but also doing the right things that are not required to be done – will set you apart and put you on the path to being recognized as an exceptional leader.

When you get right down to it, it is the most ethical thing to do.

Secret Tips to Building a Long, Safe Career as a Bureaucrat

With very little effort or risk you can use these secrets to build a wonderful career in business.

Sure, everyone talks about wanting to be a charismatic, captivating leader who receives the adulation of the masses. The dream of many is to be the exalted, swashbuckling entrepreneur who is inducted into the pantheon of business heroes; a Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. Bob MacDonald on BusinessRich beyond all earthly dreams, without even mentioning the myriad, and other royal, perks of office.

Achieving success as an entrepreneurial leader is such a desired distinction that thousands of books have been written offering to teach the techniques of leadership; hundreds of schools offer advanced courses – even degrees – in leadership and entrepreneurism and a gaggle of “personal success coaches” make a comfortable living dishing up the “secrets” of leadership.

But,alas, there’s also a downside to all this leadership malarkey that many do not want to admit. There are far fewer opportunities to become a leader than a follower, so competition for those posts is stiff and often cut-throat. Likewise, with so many wanting to be the leader, there is high risk of failure. The leader is highly visible and accountable and this increases the insecurity of being a top dog. Leaders have to make decisions – often without the information needed to decide wisely. And if they err, that could end their otherwise auspicious careers. So, being a leader is not all peaches and cream.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Perhaps that’s why the better option is to be a bureaucrat. After all, the world always needs bureaucrats. Better yet, it’s a cushy job, lacking all the stress and pressure felt by leaders. There is no need for the bureaucrat to anguish over being creative or being required to make any decisions not foreordained by (often written) procedure. Just the opposite, there is a critical need for armies of bureaucrats to implement, monitor and control all process and procedure in an organization and to avoid making any decisions, because maybe they might go bad. And the demand for bureaucrats is even greater in successful organizations. Entrepreneurial leaders may be good at motivating, inspiring and driving success, but they universally lack the ability to manage success. Bureaucrats have a natural inclination to protect the status quo and resist change. (In many cases this ability has even led to bureaucrats being placed at the very top levels of an organization.) Besides, it’s a lot safer to be a bureaucrat.

Bureaucrats are usually invisible, nameless and innocuous; this allows them to hide in plain view – free from accountability – but behind reams of bureaucratic obfuscation. This anonymity Bob MacDonald on Businessgives bureaucrats the opportunity to build secret centers of power that can derail the efforts of any leader. In reality, the bureaucrat really has it all: little stress and pressure, high job security, little accountability for their actions (unlike leaders, action for the bureaucrat is really inaction) and they have the power to shoot any leader down and bring the momentum of an organization to a halt.

But there is one problem: While there are multitudes of books, classes and seminars designed to teach individuals to be entrepreneurs and leaders, no such resources dedicated to teaching people the best techniques of being a bureaucrat. No heady business manual entitled, “So You Want to be a Bureaucrat!” This puts those who may want to dedicate their life to the safety and security of bureaucracy at a real disadvantage, because people don’t realize that bureaucrats are made not born.

Well that disadvantage is going to change—starting right now! After years of observing (and cursing) bureaucrats, I am going to let you in on some of the heretofore hidden secrets of the best bureaucrats. My promise is that if you take these tips to heart and inculcate them into your own style of inaction, then you, too, can enjoy an obscure, long term, secure career as a bureaucrat. Here goes.

Tip #1 – Learn and commit to the creed of the bureaucrat: “Just say, No!”

You can never get in trouble as a bureaucrat or be blamed if something goes wrong, so long as your first reaction to any idea, suggestion or request is, “No.” Saying “no” will give you time to ponder a multitude of ways to delay and eventually kill any new idea or suggestion outside the norm. If you really get pushed on some idea or action, you can always fall back by saying, “That is a good idea. Let me consider it and I will get back to you.”

Tip #2 – Control any and all information that comes to you and never communicate effectively

Recognize that information is power. Your power. If you know something that others don’t know, you have leverage over them. You can use this leverage to make yourself look good and to make others look bad. The best way to maintain control over others is to keep then in the dark by withholding information, especially if it relates to their job.

View bits of information that you have as if they are nuggets of gold. You wouldn’t give away gold, so why give away the information you have? Having information puts you in the know and as a bureaucrat you know that you don’t want others to know what you know.

When it comes to communication, it is always best to communicate as little as possible. When communicating, always be as vague as you can be, using convoluted language and elusive conclusions. Bureaucratspeak, if you will. Some of the simple things you can do to increase your communication leverage are: Tell others what you want them to do, but never tell them why. Tell people just enough of what you know so that they know you know something they don’t. Tell different people different things. One of the best ways to communicate is to do so in a manner that makes it difficult for people to really understand what you meant. (This way, if something goes wrong you can claim the people didn’t do what you told them to do.)

Tip #3 – Become an expert at using “CYA” techniques

Mastering the techniques of the “cover your ass” attitude is essential to any successful career as a bureaucrat. Think of CYA as type of mind game in which you develop all forms of bob-and-weave, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t, yes-I-do, no-I-don’t techniques to play hide-and-seek with responsibility. To be effective at CYA, any tactic that can be used to confuse and delay is fair game. Remember, the ultimate accomplishment of using CYA tactics is to accomplish nothing. Those who become proficient in CYA are always positioned so that when something goes wrong, they can shift the blame on others.

There are a lot of effective tools available for CYA, but the most popular and powerful is the “memo to the file.” The experienced CYA practitioner can churn out reams of memos (mostly to the file) that form a papier-mâché barrier intended to fend off the slings and arrows of blame and accountability. The key to these memos is for the bureaucrat to take the position as just a “messenger” who is reporting on the actions of others, not his.

Tip #4 – Never evoke a sense of urgency

The successful bureaucrat understands that taking action on anything is risky, so there should never, ever be any sense of urgency to act. For the bureaucrat the objective should be to do what can be done to delay getting something done. Lacking a sense of urgency is like pouring molasses into the gears of an organization that can slow down and eventually kill any vestige of creative ingenuity and forward momentum. All this without having to make a decision and, at the same time, protecting the bureaucrat from any blame or accountability.

Tip #5 – Keep this toolbox of bureaucratic tricks handy

There are many tools available to the bureaucrat, but here are just a few to keep in your bag of deceit.

  • Avoid setting deadlines. They can only cause trouble and get in the way of inaction.
  • Make things seem more complicated than they are. The more complex you can make an issue appear to be, the easier it is to do nothing and blame others when the issue can’t be resolved. Remember, simplicity is the bane of bureaucracy.
  • Always profess your admiration, loyalty and support for those above you. (Otherwise known as “ass-kissing.”)
  • Use the rules, regulations and formal organizational structure as your source of power.
  • Proclaim loudly and openly that you personally may not agree with the rules or want to do things with more urgency, but you are simply following the rules and doing your job.
  • When presented with an idea or new plan, ignore the big picture and nit-pick at the details. It is always easier to kill a new idea by picking at the details, rather than the idea itself.
  • Position yourself to take credit for all good ideas, no matter the source. Remember, you’re the boss. Staff ideas generated under your watch are yours.
  • Never, ever give credit to those below you and always be ready to belittle them in order to show your power and control.

And the Moral of the Story …

If you are looking for a comfortable, safe, secure and virtually risk-free career, you might consider becoming a bureaucrat. In these uncertain economic times, when companies are simply trying to hold on what they have and avoid risk it has created a great opportunity for the professional bureaucrat.

There may be those who mock and make fun of bureaucrats, but it is a growth industry. The bureaucrats love this because they know that if they are true to their profession, they will get the last laugh. People don’t realize how easy and fun it is to be a bureaucrat and have the power to frustrate others. There are many more opportunities to be a successful bureaucrat than a successful entrepreneurial leader. And these opportunities come without the pressure, stress and risk that follow leadership. And the pay is good, the hours are short and the possibilities of riding the Peter Principle are endless.

There has never been a better time to be a bureaucrat. If you have the dedication, commitment and effort to follow the bureaucratic creed, can cover your ass while kissing others’ and are comfortable with doing nothing, but doing it well, then you too could be a bureaucrat.




Bureaucracy is the Beer Belly of Business

Once bureaucracy starts creeping onto the corporate body, it’s hell to reduce

Whether fairly or not, we form an immediate negative opinion of an individual who struts around supporting (actually a relative term) a beer belly bulbous enough to intimidate a sumo wrestler. When we see a turgid paunch on parade, we often draw an immediate conclusion about this person’s lack of self-discipline and roguish life style.

It may be none of our business and won’t impact our lives, but the natural assumption is that this individual is a committed couch potato, saturated by a high-caloric diet (both solids and liquids) and is not at all concerned about how these personal decisions will wreak havoc on his future well being.

Sadly, the same sorts of morbidities strike businesses of all sizes.  The culprit here, though, isn’t unwise eating habits or sedentary life styles, it’s bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the beer belly of business and it can impact business futures just as deeply if left untreated. And that’s what separates ordinary from exceptional leaders.

Some leaders react to the beer belly of bureaucracy by outwardly expressing  repugnance, but more often than not, they wrap themselves in its suffocating blanket. For them, bureaucracy festers and grows while becoming a tool to control and stifle others; it also serves as a convenient excuse if objectives fail. Sure, there certainly is a need for structure and order, but all too often, once bureaucracy begins to bulge, it limits innovation and creativity in much the same way as a girdle of fat inhibits both freedom of movement and motivation to change and adopt healthy new strategies.

Growing the Beer-Belly of Bureaucracy

Like one too many beers and that surfeit donut, the incursion of organizational bureaucracy starts so subtly you barely notice. And unless it’s identified and rigorously disciplined, bureaucracy can grow into a corpulent beer-belly of rules causing an organization to become too paralyzed to act.

Bureaucracy is a natural byproduct of growth. Growth creates the need for varying degrees of rules that attempt to standardize employee behavior and company procedures. Often these rules and regulations become institutionalized in employee handbooks and operating procedure manuals that in some organizations sag library shelves. The well-intended objective of these rules is to prevent chaos and to help coordinate the forces of many different departments together into one, unified, dynamic whole. That is all well and good, but there is a downside.

When following the rules becomes the objective rather than a path to the objective, they begin to dampen the spirit and effectiveness of the organization. When rules are obeyed simply out of tradition—without ever asking why? —they often evolve into a dam of endless delay that can stem the flow of ideas and action in the system and make life difficult for all employees. This is particularly true for the creative, entrepreneurial types who are inclined to take the very actions that make an organization better.

Principles of Engagement

Often a business leader may see straightjacket-by-rules as a way to provide security and protect against risk. But the fact is, it also suffocates the vitality of change. In an effort to block the development of beer-belly bureaucracy and encourage creativity, risk taking and innovation, other leaders will adopt a healthy lifestyle environment that can be called “principles of engagement.”

A principle of engagement is a clear guideline for doing business, but not a specific, fixed rule as to how to do business. A principle of engagement defines what the business is about, but it does not set the rules as to how an organization goes about its business. There is a difference between guidelines and rules and the healthy leader knows that:

Rules are for those you don’t trust.
Guidelines are for those you respect.

Give a person a rule and you take away thought. Give a person a guideline and you stimulate creativity, accountability and responsibility. Operating under a principle of engagement, a leadership environment allows those who will be required to follow the rules to set them.

Using the concept of “principles of engagement” to control the beer belly of bureaucracy brings supervision, structure and order to the efforts of an organization, without imposing the stultifying details of rules that full-fledged bureaucracy brings. Contrary to the concept of bureaucracy that is designed to define, monitor and control each and every activity, the “principle of engagement” is a slimmed down approach that is not focused on how an objective is accomplished, so long as it is achieved within the established principle of engagement.

What Happens When a Leader Allows Beer-Belly Bureaucracy

Allowing bureaucracy to infest an organization has a negative impact on all elements of an organization, but especially three areas that significantly affect the performance of an organization. They are:

  • Accountability
  • Responsibility
  • Sense of urgency

A bureaucratic corporate mindset arises when the leader allows for the loss of these key elements. And like a carrying around a robust beer belly, it will sap an organization’s strength and vitality because it enmeshes employees in an ever-widening inability to act.


The concept of accountability means different things to different people; the bureaucratic leader sees accountability as a way to assign blame and punishment, while for bureaucracy-busters, accountability is a tool teach and assign reward.

When a leader uses accountability as a weapon of punishment or to transfer blame, then the organization begins to wander down a path that leads to a paralysis of analysis. In a bureaucratic environment where failure is not an option, no one will assume the ownership risk of an action because there is no reward of equal value.

If accountability is used as a tool to identify and reward those who are willing to accept the risk of action, then more people are willing to step up and exercise the ownership risk of action. If a member of an organization knows they will be allowed to learn from failure, they are much more likely to make the effort and accept accountability.


Responsibility comes part and parcel with accountability. Those operating under a leader who does not understand or practice healthy accountability soon develop sophisticated techniques to avoid responsibility.

A bureaucracy defuses responsibility into a catacomb of committees, reports, analyses and a parade of consultants, all of which results in a beer belly of bureaucracy. For an organization to remain slimmed down, vibrant and effective, there must be clear lines of responsibility and along with them must come the transfer of the authority to do the job and a healthy element of accountability.

The Pressing Need for Urgency

Operating with a sense of urgency is the measure of an organization’s leadership and vitality. A sense of urgency does not mean operating at a forced frenetic pace, but rather it means all tasks, decisions and actions are tackled in a consistent, timely fashion, exhibiting neither delay nor panic. This cannot happen in a beer-belly bloated bureaucracy. Bureaucracy fertilizes indecision and delay, leading to a harvest of last-minute panic actions.

And here’s something else to remember: There is a mistaken belief that a sense of urgency only works in smaller ventures. Not so. Whether or not an organization operates with a sense of urgency is not determined by the size of the organization but by the size of its overhanging bureaucracy.

Having a sense of urgency does not mean that you are not organized or don’t plan —nor does not mean that you are running off at the cuff. It means that you have a sense of determination to get things done. Something that is difficult to do when carrying around a beer-belly bureaucracy.

And the Moral of the Story Is . . .

Many leaders tend to embrace bureaucracy for the comfort, control and risk management it promises. These leaders fail to recognize that institutionalized bureaucracy leads to a beer-belly structure that can rob their organization of its ability to perform up to its potential.

Those leaders who understand that the physical structure of an organization can impact the potential for performance and success constantly strive for a leadership style that’s “six-pack-abs” lean and free from bureaucratic bloat. They recognize the value of structure and organization but clearly understand that when a structure morphs into a beer-belly bureaucracy in becomes the controlling culture that encourages all to hide behind committees, pass the buck, shirk responsibility, sulk, and sit idly by as the organization eventually waddles its way into failure.

The antidote for the ravages of a beer-belly bureaucracy is a culture that operates within rules of engagement, encourages a sense of urgency that emboldens risk-taking, freedom from fear-of-blame type accountability. The leader encourages employees to make their own rules within established principles of engagement and may even reward them with an offer of a beer when they succeed.