As a leader in an environment, people are always watching you. As we have said many times before, you may not be leading a team or an organization quite yet but, you are always leading yourself, and people are watching. Chris wrote a great piece earlier this summer about your true north, or your moral compass, what core values guide your behavior (read it here). Chris mentioned that there are rough seas and strong winds at times that blow us off course, there are two specifically that we can be aware of and learn to navigate.

The first of these two I will call the approval of man. Man in this case is general, it could be a man or woman, or really even a child. This could be your boss, you peer, or even a staff member. The point of your moral compass is to guide you in determining right from wrong. This can easily get murky when something you value is at stake. You are sitting in a project meeting and your boss, peers, and team members are in the room. It comes time for the project manager to ask you about your part, the series of tasks due today. You are almost finished, literally a few hours of work away, so easy to look around and just say completed. Your moral compass says not to lie, honesty is a core value of yours. This doesn’t hurt anyone does it? You’re so close to completion, why be embarrassed?

This is a small example of how wanting the approval of man, in this case everyone in the room, more than you want to be honest. Following your core values and moral compass is not circumstantial. If you lie here in this little instance with a little at stake it begs to question your ability to be honest in any situation. I have done this very thing. Even if no one ever finds out about this little secret, you know about it. When you are driven by a moral compass, these things erode at your core. If someone does end up finding out about it, your credibility tanks. It seems as if there is no benefit straying from your core values, even if in the temporary situation you gain some approval as the one who can get it done. It’s meaningless if you tilt your compass to get there.

How do you get past this one, I mean, how do you recover and move on with a straightened moral compass? As the old Catholic priest would say, confession. Thats right, you have to tell someone. Go to the project manager after the meeting and let him or her know. If your boss was in the room, let them know as well. How can this help? This helps you clear your conscience. This helps the other person because they know that you are uncomfortable with lying no matter how small the issue. In time trust grows as they see you consistently guided by your core values.

The other strong wind that can blow you off course is power. In this case, we are not talking about getting closer to power like when you get promoted and are closer to reporting to the CEO. We are saying that you have been given increased authority in your current role or a new role. Let’s just say that one of your core values is unity. You believe very strongly in bringing teams together and working across team lines to get things done. This was easy to do when you were a team member, we’re all in this together right? What about now? People are looking at you for answers and now it is in your power to get them. The issue here relates to credit. A fluttering moral compass with try to take credit. Unity calls for shared credit, it was a team effort, ego calls for personal credit, I DID IT! I have been there. When I got my first C-level job I was totally clueless, in the dark. First I was shocked to be there so I didn’t take credit for anything. But after a while, when I started to learn the ropes, I started receiving some of the credit and glory. This is where as a leader it is important to have a team around you that cares enough about you and the organization to tell it to you straight. People who are willing to tell you that the power is going to your head. If you do not have this, you will learn eventually that it truly is about the team, because alone you will fail. This lesson may cost you a job or two but over time we all learn it.

Being guided by a moral compass doesn’t mean we are perfect. It does mean that we want to do what is right more than we want to have the approval of man or credit for a job well done. The funny part is that when you let your moral compass guide you, most people will approve and give you honor and respect. There will be those who think having this moral compass is weak, pay them no mind. Trust that in the end if you always seek to do what is right peace will prevail and you will be a leader that others want to follow.



  1. Rebecca Wolfe | Reply

    Excellent post Bill. We all need to be reminded to make sure we are always navigating with our moral compass.

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