What price will you pay?

So there you are, faced with unethical behavior from your boss. What do you do? Let's make it a little harder - your boss is very tight with his boss so you're pretty sure taking it up the channel would be a career limiting move.

You can

  1. Do nothing.
  2. Spread rumors behind the scene to force your boss's hand.
  3. Take action independently to cause the issue to surface.
  4. Talk to your boss.

Let's look at each of those in turn.

  1. Do nothing.
    Seems likely that no one will suffer terribly from your boss's actions. I mean we're not talking about hiding O-rings on the space shuttle or exploding gas tanks on a car, right? If you are committed to not making waves, this is likely your only choice. And it's the option least likely to cost you your job. But then, what is the cost when you look at yourself in the mirror?
  2. Spread rumors behind the scene to force your boss's hand.
    Not a pretty answer. Launching your own unethical behavior to stop your boss's almost never makes sense. It's not good leadership and may backfire. You'd have to take an "ends justify the means" posture to justify this.
  3. Take action independently to resolve the issue or cause it to surface.
    Sometimes you can make things right without going head-to-head with your boss. Get creative about constructive, ethical actions you can take that will change the situation. As a last resort, this could include going to the media. But that surely will cost you your job and might hurt many others. Think of the media as your "nuclear option" if lives are at stake.

One big problem with these first three options --- Will you still be able to lead others if you can't tackle this issue?

4.  Talk to your boss directly and thoughtfully.
If the "reasonable person" test suggests that your boss might hear your concerns and reconsider, you can fire up your courage and have that hard conversation. Your concerns might be resolved. Remember that a key to influencing someone is being willing to be influenced. Listen to what your boss has to say. Perhaps you weren't seeing the whole picture. You just might change the outcome with this conversation. Still, it can backfire. Even if this conversation stops the behavior that concerned you, you may become a political outcast in your organization. Be sure you are willing to pay that price.

Bottom line? Sometimes doing what you believe is right has a price. So does doing nothing. Which price are you willing to pay?

When have you made this hard choice? What was your outcome?