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Ethics And Escalation

I will throw a few thoughts on ethics out at the blogosphere for some weekend musing. Have at them with gusto. Marcus Aurelius was not the only one to jot down his meditations for all to see. People tell me I am a genius.  Here is some proof.

One can never be more honest or more competent than one's boss. The moment you outshine your boss is the moment you become a threat to their career. Most humans are sufficiently insecure about their own place in a pecking order that they will sabotage or steal from capable underlings. The remaining minority could be a lot more productive if they work for themselves. Supervisors behaving badly can fake it for a long time if their subordinates stick around out of desperation.

Everyone who works for a large enterprise will eventually be forced to choose between career success and personal integrity. We all choose one or the other. These are mutually exclusive choices. If you avoid making the choice, your boss will make the choice on your behalf, and your acquiescence is the moral equivalent of concurrence. Choosing personal integrity usually leads to negative career consequences. Repeatedly choosing integrity eventually guarantees a path to either self-employment or starvation. Choosing career success means immediate monetary rewards, plus long-term legal risks that no one can hide forever. Col. John Boyd, America's greatest military theorist, framed the choice as "to be or to do" for his acolytes. Being means choosing extrinsic rewards of money and glory. Doing means choosing intrinsic rewards of moral clarity and professional productivity.

Escalating a decision to one's boss means surrendering moral responsibility for the outcome. Sometimes this is unavoidable. Enterprise policies often define escalation triggers, especially in crisis management. Junior employees can learn from watching seniors handle the escalation even if the results remain hidden.

Humans owe a duty of loyalty to their superiors at the beginning of a professional relationship. This duty grows stronger or weaker over time based on the superiors' behavior. Bosses who demonstrate ethical lapses deserve progressively less loyalty as their deficiencies become obvious. Prolonged exposure to a superior who is unethical or incompetent is a career hazard. Never hitch a wagon to a dead horse. Escaping from unethical people is a moral imperative, not to mention a salve for one's sanity.

That is all for tonight. I will be up in Santa Rosa tomorrow, watching a charity polo match. Wineries will have their wares on display. I may bring home a bottle or two.