A Recent Lesson in Leadership Ethics

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I recently joined in a conversation about an upcoming conference on a professional association Facebook group page. One post from a member suggested the idea of the association sponsoring a new ribbon to attach to conference attendee name badges that identified members as “singles.” Currently, there are ribbons that identify attendees as “First Timer,” “Chapter President,” and many other similar categories.

This member’s post generated a lot of discussion on both sides of the issue. Most posts were in favor of the idea; many others, however, didn’t think an official association endorsement of a member’s marital status was appropriate. In fact, one member’s post mentioned that in the past, the association’s acronym was used for a less-than-flattering description about reported instances of married members sleeping with people other than their spouses at conferences past.  

Amid the vocal posts promoting the “consenting adults” position, many were also stating that the conference focuses on bringing people together to learn how to build their business better, not serve as a “hook-up” convention. If single people wanted to get together on their own, no one had a problem with that; it was the sanctioning of such an association sub-group that created the division and discussion.

The first thing that came to my mind as I read through the posts was the issue of professional ethics. I copied that short paragraph from the association’s website that defined the expectations of ethical behavior of persons as individuals and as members and pasted it in my post.  I raised the issue in the form of a question of how this discussion (and dredging up the not-so-favorable acronym reference from the past) might violate the Code of Conduct and paint the association in an unfavorable light in the eyes of those doing business with this association, and upon whom many members rely for their business.

A few well-know individuals and others in this association (and in the related business it represents) came down politely but firmly on my post, many not seeing how the association’s Code of Conduct applied to the situation. As a fairly new member (I joined in 2017), I was a bit concerned I may have stepped on some big toes or undermined my own credibility in the association network I was building.

However, through the barrage, I maintained my position.

One week later, I received an email from a member of the association’s board of directors. She stated: “You are 100% correct in your ethics and the direction we are trying to take the association.” We both believed that such a situation could lead to violations of the association’s Code of Conduct policy, including sexual harassment.

As a result of holding to my convictions about the ethics surrounding this request, this board member asked me to serve on her Social Media Communications Strategy Task Force to flag conversations in the Facebook group that may conflict with the association’s Code of Conduct. However, ethical leadership demands I be aware every day of  the line between legitimate Code of Conduct concerns, and falling into the trap of seeing violations in every other conversation.

Have you ever been faced with an ethical dilemma and how did you handle it? Let me know in your comments.

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