Ethical leadership skills

Surveys indicate that many workers are reluctant to report unethical practices, including stealing, in the workplace. Although a federal law (Sarbanes-Oxley) was passed to counter unethical corporate behavior and protect workers who report unethical activities, many employees still face loss of their jobs or ridicule if they “whistleblow” on corporate misconduct (Spherion, 2006). Furthermore, it has been reported that nearly 25 percent of young workers aged 18–24 do not believe that stealing office supplies for personal use is wrong. Many steal employer property, including pens, pencils, paper, selfadhesive notepads, and paper clips without regard to the activity’s illegality. Employee theft costs American businesses over $40 billion each year (Wulfhorst, 2006). Unethical behavior, dishonesty, and theft in the workplace often occur in a gradual incremental process. Theft, in particular, stems from a complex set of causes. Foremost among them is simply that an opportunity to steal arises, because the chances of getting caught are low. Additional causes include low workforce morale, employees’ sense that they are being underpaid, and minimal consequences for getting caught stealing (Walsh, 2000). As seemingly insignificant misconduct and theft go undetected, perpetrators often rationalize larger transgressions. Even high level executives can become tempted to steal. Consider Dale Frantz, the former chief information officer of Auto Warehousing Company. Frantz embezzled more than $500,000 from his company during 2007–2009 and was sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison. He used a number of strategies to steal the funds, including writing up fraudulent invoices for expense reports and changing legitimate reports to maximize his reimbursements. In addition, he used company funds to buy computer equipment that he resold on the Internet (McMillan, 2010).

1. Do you believe that ethical behavior can be learned? If yes, who do you believe should take responsibility for teaching ethics?

2. If you observed a theft in your workplace, would you assume a leadership role and take action against the misconduct? If yes, what action(s) would you take?

3. Given your knowledge of the causes behind workplace theft, what steps would you advise organizations to take in order to discourage and minimize stealing by employees and thereby protect the organization’s assets?

4. How would you go about strengthening your ethical leadership skills?

Simulation exercises may be used to rehearse responses to various security scenarios such as armed security personnel conducting a simulation at a nuclear power facility.


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