Living by Example
Action is the strongest form of expression. When you are a leader, for better or worse, you are constantly talking to the team. They pay close attention to what you do because they want clues as to what they should do. Your actions, and your ethical behavior, become critical.
What You Request
There are understated situations in which your actions can actually request unethical activity, even if it is the last thing that would normally come to your mind. In 1170, four knights murdered Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett, purportedly because they heard King Henry II exclaim in a moment of extreme vexation with the cleric, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” He asked and duly received. Given the history between the two men, there are good grounds for assuming that Henry's request was not entirely unconscious, and yet you might see how an unplanned remark or action can lead to many others outside of your control.
To encourage ethical activity, you must become squeaky clean. That means you must consider everything you do in the following manner:
Does it advance a goal of the team or organization?
Is it acceptable under your ethical code and law?
If not acceptable, how will you modify it and keep it effective?
Know the team and organization ethics as well as all legal requirements. Do not advocate anything that would run counter to these, even if you are sure that no one outside the team would ever know. They don't have to know; you will.
Slips by the Team
There may be times that you will face actions that aren't in keeping with your ethical code or with the law. When that happens, you have to take action quickly and decisively. A response could be anything from a private discussion and additional training to dismissing someone from the team. You should take a few factors into account:
Was the infraction willful and deliberate?
Was there a strong perception that the action was ordered by someone in authority?
Was the violation one of ethics or law?
How serious was the incident?
Can the team member learn and correct future behavior?
A mandatory draconian solution to problems may seem good until you realize how easily anyone could slip — even you. Better to have someone learn a painful lesson than to lose the person and face the possibility that someone else will have to face the same event.
If you find yourself in an ethical or legal lapse, the situation immediately becomes more serious because you need to be a role model. Hopefully, you will never face such a crisis, but if so, better to resign your position and learn a lesson than to hang on and be a leader in name only.
If the problem lies with someone else in the organization or someone completely from the outside, decide whether there has been any real injury to anyone. If so, consider whether it was an aberration that deserves the mercy of human understanding or if it seems to be an ingrained pattern or a violation of law. If it is the latter, you must go to an appropriate authority. Support what is most important and help raise the hopes of people around you. When you are a leader, you are an example whether you like it or not.