Mann, S. (2011), "The Ethical Executive: Avoiding the Traps of the Unethical Workplace", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 527-528. https://doi.org/10.1108/01437731111146604
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
This book is a superb examination of the traps that distort our perception of what is right and wrong – the psychological traps that allow us to engage in unethical behaviour whilst believing that we are doing nothing wrong. All of us are at risk of falling into these traps and although this book is aimed at the ethical executive, it is just as relevant to the ethical leader, manager or indeed, anyone wishing to aspire to be more ethical.
The 45 traps described in the book are like illusions, say the authors – and when we become aware of them (through reading their book), they lose much of their power to deceive us and we can learn to navigate our lives more easily around them. Companies such as Enron, Adelphia and Tyco feature heavily in the text as the authors maintain that the traps contributed significantly to these disasters. Hoyk and Hersey make the point that these disasters happened not because people are inherently evil, but because the impulses of humans to fall into the traps are so strong; what makes the individual or organisation begin to move in al ill‐fated direction? The 45 traps in the book, say the authors, are descriptions of the different internal or external stimuli that compel people to begin this movement towards disaster.
An example of this is given with the first trap to be outlined in the book – the trap of “obedience to authority”. As children, we are primed to obey our parents, teachers and authority figures. This obedience continues without much challenge for most people so that as adults, obeying orders for our boss comes naturally to us. Even if that boss orders us to so something of questionable ethical value, obedience to authority is such a powerful external stimulus that we are naturally prone to obey without even considering whether this goes against our ethical principles.
Three main categories of traps are outlined in the book: Primary, Defensive and Personality traps. Primary traps are generally external stimuli and are the main traps that have the potential to propel us to move in a certain direction without regard for our ethical principles (like obedience to authority).
Defensive traps, on the other hand are basically attempts to find easy ways to reverse course once a transgression has already been committed; they are reactions to the two internal stimuli of guilt and shame. These traps help us deny our transgressions, thus setting us up for repeated unethical behaviour.
Personality traps refer to the various personality traits that can make us more vulnerable to wrong doing.
All of these traps can operate on their own or in combination and can incite tunnel vision and make us blind to other options of behaviour. In other words, they can lead us and our organisations, rapidly down the path of corruption.
Ethical executive is a highly readable text that is illustrated with real‐life case studies and examples. I think it should be essential reading for everyone in business and it is certainly worth owning a copy to revisit every so often.