Monday, May 23, 2011

Ethics in Leadership

I was at a Toastmasters meeting on Wednesday night and the theme for the meeting was Ethics in Project Management. One of the Table Topics questions was "You have a contract with a sub-supplier for a software development package. During the execution of the project, you learn that the sub-supplier is using 3rd Party Software without a license for the development of your product. How do you handle it?"

Now, the question itself was interesting, but the the answers were even more so. This was the most responded to Table Topic question, and everybody seemed to be concerned with the legal aspect of it. Basically, "how is your contract worded, are you legally liable?" type conversations. One person said that his response would depend on the impact to the project. The shortest answer was "I am a software programmer, I think I deserve to be paid for my work (paraphrased)." While the answer didn't meet the minimum requirements for Table Topics (the expectation is 1-2 minutes of speaking), it might have been the most ethical answer.

The Project Management Institute is a big believer in Ethics. In fact there is an Ethics Review Board that can (and does) review PM behavior when a concern is brought forward. The thing that concerned me the most was that the participants in the meeting really didn't try to argue the ethical answer. The ethical answer would be to inform the sub-supplier that they need to get a license or you will terminate the contract; and possibly turn them in. The use of unauthorized third party software is stealing, no matter how you legally look at it. It would be like stealing a piece of furniture that somebody else made just so you have a place to sit.

Thankfully, during that meeting I was the General Evaluator and pointed out that all of the questions that night weren't about legal issues, but ethical issues. I also pointed out that most of the presentations regarding the question wouldn't pass mustard with the PMI Ethics board. Somehow I don't think that my message was well received.

All too often ethics are put aside in the name of convenience. If it will impact our budgets or timetables we are more than willing to bend the rules... or break them if we think we won't get caught. Unfortunately, you can only do so for a little while before you are caught. Nobody is perfect. Leadership is often about making the hard decisions, something we sometimes forget when we are sitting at a desk with a computer in front of us. A true LEADER does what is RIGHT, regardless of the difficulties it will cause.

Now, can I claim to be perfect? Unfortunately, no. I too am only human. However, I do try, and when I stumble I admit it and face the consequences. I only hope that my example can inspire others (including my sons) to do the right thing, or face the consequences when they don't.

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