Creating ethical organizational cultures




As leaders, we have two challenges when acting with integrity. The first is to demonstrate integrity on a personal level. The other is to help ensure an organizational culture that demonstrates integrity. I reviewed some articles on the topic. Here’s a summary of the key points.

Leaders are visible role models. When employees see leaders acting out their values, it sets the tone for the whole organization. Creating and maintaining standards, for themselves and others, is a key to maintaining organizational ethics.

Ethical expectations are clear and employees understand them.  New employees need to learn the organization’s values. All employees need training to practice applying those values. For example, MnSCU has an online Code of Conduct training course for all new employees.  As leaders, we could ask our staff members to review the course and then discuss key points during a staff meeting.

Rewards and recognition reflect the organization’s espoused values. There should be clear alignment between what the organization says it wants and what is recognized as successful behavior. For example, consider ways to publicly acknowledge individuals and teams with accomplishments such as providing services to underrepresented students or finding new ways to use limited resources.

Pepperdine University proposed the following formula to describe organizational ethics.

Virtuous Values + Aligned Action + Behavioral Standards/Codes –> Increased Ethical Behavior

How do you apply this with your teams?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Workplace Psychology: Creating an Ethical Organizational Culture

Pepperdine University, Graziadio Business Review: Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture

Society for HR Management (SHRM): Creating an Ethical Workplace



Carbon fiber and integrity

bike crashIntegrity matters, in biking and in leadership!

When carbon fiber bike frames were first introduced there were examples of “massive failures” as the frames shattered at high speed or when under pressure. That led to ugly crashes. The challenge was that the frames looked good from the outside yet they lacked internal structural integrity.

Same with leadership. Successful leaders must posses integrity along with their strong skills, competence and experience. In fact, it is their internal integrity, often hard to see at first, that keeps them successful during times of high demands and stress!

John Sporleder, Founder and President of Sporleder Human Capital, describes integrity as the unseen foundation that effective leadership is built upon. In an article titled “Leadership in the Workplace:The Importance of Integrityhe lists three crucial attributes that leaders with integrity possess:

  1. Stability: the ability to remain steadfast and true to your values despite the turmoil and volatility in the workplace or culture.
  2. Safety: a willingness to trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt when they try their own ideas. An expectation of openness and honesty.
  3. Reference: serving as a role model and example for others. Holding oneself to a standard of integrity for others to follow.

Felt bikeAnd yes, I now have a carbon fiber bike.

Internal integrity is not always flashy but it is powerful!

Todd Thorsgaard

What does integrity look like?

integrity compass“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

A couple of weeks ago at our Executive Leader Development program, the topic of integrity emerged in several discussions. Whether we were talking about executive communication, advancing diversity and student success, or dealing with adaptive challenges, participants commented how important it was to act with integrity in all situations.

Personal and professional integrity is at the core of effective leadership. It is also the leadership competency we will be discussing this month.

So what does integrity look like? Well, here are some of the behaviors that we’ve identified within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities that demonstrate acting with integrity:

  • Demonstrates honesty
  • Abides by all relevant laws, rules, and regulations
  • Encourages others to do the same
  • Gives credit where credit is due
  • Delivers what is promised
  • Admits and learns from mistakes
  • Corrects mistakes to utmost ability

Specifically, integrity can translate into maintaining a culture that requires all employees to report unethical practices and behavior. Or it could mean making difficult decisions that align with your college or university strategies and values.

College and university leaders often have to make unpopular decisions to make sure that their institution stays viable during times of declining student enrollment and budget cuts. Closing programs and laying off staff and faculty are difficult realities in today’s higher education environment. Staying the course, especially when under fire, from takes great professional courage and can test your integrity.

What does integrity look like in your role?

Anita Rios




Feeling grateful

I am in the middle of a three day leadership program with 34 leaders from across the Minnesota State College and Universities system and I am feeling grateful for the people I 2016_01_27_08_24_00_Wordle_Createget to work with. We asked them to describe what energized them about being a leader and one group created this wordle.


A second group wrote this as their leadership mission statement: “…collaborative learning and sharing best practices while networking and building new relationships.  Through fun activities, where we are able to laugh together, will fuel our creative and innovative thought.”

And as we wrapped up today one leader shared this, “I am so grateful for the generosity of my colleagues. They trust me and have granted me the freedom to make mistakes and grow in my role while giving me the benefit of doubt.”

As leaders we have the opportunity to get to know ourselves better by being open to the wisdom and the insight of those we work with.

What have you learned from those you work with?

Todd Thorsgaard

Uncovering our blind spots

Blind-Corner-Proceed-Traffic-Sign-K-4409I made one of my periodic Big Public Mistakes a while ago. Not the kind that are about trying new things – the other kind where you just say or do something that you know better and would love to have a re-do. But here’s the challenging thing: I still don’t know exactly what it was.

We’ve talked about blind spots before. It’s a natural concern when thinking about understanding ourselves. How can we understand something we don’t know we’re doing?

During the meeting in question, I caught myself stepping outside of my assigned role. I apologized and did my best to get back on track for the remaining time. Event over, lesson learned, right? Apparently not. It kept coming up over the next couple of days. I decided to dig a little deeper and eventually someone told me that what I said came across as harsh. That’s so far from my usual way of communicating that it caught people off guard.

Like many introverts I have an internal observer and critic. I can pretty much repeat what happened in a meeting – what I said, how people reacted, what kind of nonverbals were going on, etc.  In this case the editor was completely off line. I can’t pull up what I said and completely missed other people’s reactions.

That’s a blind spot.

I did some self-reflection about the experience and came up with a game plan to address things differently next time. I hope it helps to make this particular blind spot a little smaller. We’ll see how it goes.

It’s hard to uncover blind spots. People can be justifiably reluctant to tell leaders things that they may not want to hear. I learned that seeking feedback from others can be an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and grow as leaders.

How have you uncovered your blind spots?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Know your why!

golden circle“It all starts with clarity. You have to know WHY you do WHAT you do… people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it, so it follows that if you don’t know WHY you do WHAT you do, how will anyone else?”  – Simon Sinek, Start With Why

Do you follow what Simon says in the quote above? It’s actually pretty powerful stuff! Knowing why we do what we do is critical to inspire others and have them willingly follow our leadership. Last week we held our second executive leader development seminar for aspiring presidents in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. One of the assignments was for participants was to deliver a very brief 200-300 word inaugural speech that communicated the value of their institution and most importantly helped people understand their “why.”

Several of the participants delivered their speeches to the entire cohort and it was awe-inspiring to hear their “why.” They told personal stories about their own experiences and relayed how college had changed their lives in truly amazing ways. Their stories were from the heart and compelled the listeners to want to follow them as leaders.

Let me tell you about my “why.”

When I was about 6 years old, I remember sitting with my dad in the living room. We were watching Richard Nixon on a small, snowy, black and white TV screen. It was just before the 1968 presidential election and Nixon was holding a TV conference. While we were sitting there, my dad turned to me and said, “Wow, you’re growing up so fast!  Before you know it, you’ll be going to college.”

That one statement had a profound impact on my life. It became a matter of fact…an expectation that I would go to college. I’m not sure that I knew exactly what college was at 6 years old.  But I knew it was important! I knew it was something that my dad expected of me.

As I grew older, I learned that my parents faced barriers that prevented them from going to college. In fact, my mother had received a full scholarship to attend Hamline University, but couldn’t attend. She needed to work to support herself right out of high school. So as the oldest of 5 kids in our family, I felt very much a pioneer as I marched off to St. Olaf College after high school.

While my dad may not remember that comment he made in our small living room in 1968….I do.  It has laid the foundation for two core values I hold dear:

  1. Education has the power to transform our lives
  2. Seeing possibilities for growth in others and encouraging them is a gift we give to our children, to our students, to our colleagues, and to our employees.

My work in supporting the development of leaders in our colleges and universities springs directly from these values. It gives me the deepest satisfaction, because what I do every day supports my “why.”

Have you thought about your “why” recently? If not, I encourage you to do that. Why is it that you do what you do? If you have thought about it, have you told others about your “why?” If not, do that too! It will reconfirm your own commitment to the values that drive what you do each day. And, you might be surprised at how it inspires others.

Anita Rios

Hearing each other’s stories

MLKOne of the keys to understanding others is to learn how to listen and learn from each other’s stories. As leaders, it is dangerous to make assumptions about where other people have been and what they might do next. Understanding their stories can help make a personal connection the helps build relationships and move the work forward.

This week we’ve been celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. That always reminds me of a lesson I learned about hearing other people’s stories. I had an acquaintance that I’d known for a long time. Some years ago we were traveling together and getting to know each other better. The person was a retired professor from a local seminary and I made some wrong assumptions about what his political experience might be.

We had an opportunity to go swimming and I saw his legs for the first time when he wasn’t wearing long pants. One of his legs was scarred with what looked like bite marks. As we talked, I learned that he had been with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the courthouse steps in Alabama. The bites occurred when police turned dogs loose to break up the event. He’d been part of history and I never knew it.

On another occasion I was looking at the reviews posted in the window of a local community theater. Someone came up to me and I thought, “here’s another homeless person asking for a handout.” As it turned out, the person told me about an opportunity when the theater sells tickets very inexpensively to local residents. We had a nice talk about plays we had both seen.

When I work with project teams, I’m teaching myself to ask questions before giving my opinions. Tell me more about why you want to do it that way? What happened that makes you so frustrated? How can it be improved to make your life easier? Providing an opportunity for colleagues to share their stories helps build trust and I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have known any other way.

Have you had experiences where hearing someone else’s story helped you to understand yourself and the other person in a new way?

Dee Anne Bonebright