The ethical attitudes and values of senior leadership will set the ethical atmosphere for an entire organization. This is called “tone at the top.”
This is something an auditor considers on every audit.
If you would like a short explanation of this idea, along with suggestions on what senior leadership can do to create a good environment, check out Tone at the Top, a post by Sharlynn Garza at the Nonprofit/Government GPS blog.
In my years of auditing, it has long been obvious that organizations have a corporate personality. Sometimes it only takes a couple of hours inside the accounting office and I can sense the overall attitudes of the people who work there. It’s amazing. Organizations have personality.
That personality is shaped or formed by the senior management and the board of directors. The attitudes of the most senior staff set the tone.
Does the top boss insist you do the best you can to follow all those government rules or have barely concealed contempt for all those stupid, useless rules that just get in the way of God’s work? The staff will pick up on which attitude is in play and follow along.
Does the top boss do whatever it takes to get the job done? Anything it takes? Really? Then the staff will cut ethical and legal corners too.
Does the top finance guy or gal get mad when told of an error on his or her expense report or humbly accept correction ? Don’t doubt for even one second that your staff didn’t notice. Your instantaneous reaction in that moment will completely override a hundred memos on expense reporting.
The attitude of senior leadership is noticed by staff and followed.