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14 2014

To Cheat or Not?…Choosing in Awareness

Syndicated from: Fulcrum Associates | Micro Leadership Macro Results

A presentation called “Why People Cheat” at a recent leadership breakfast by a colleague of mine, Thomas Hoffman, got me thinking. He provoked us with a statistic: people are lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times per day. Leadership, Tom said, includes the ability to manage cheating. So I’m thinking how does a leader “manage” the prevalence of dishonesty and cheating going on in his/her organization? Studies over the decades have surfaced all manner of causes for cheating. To name just a few: Cheating is thrilling. How we respond to the option of cheating depends upon how advanced we are in moral development. (Lawrence Kohlberg) The more creative people are more apt to cheat. It’s just a question of rational logic–what are the pros and cons involved in a given situation? We will more likely cheat when we think we won’t get caught or when we believe it won’t have much of an impact. (“I’ll steal some masking tape and pens from the stockroom, my company, Walmart, certainly won’t miss it.”) We cheat more readily when we feel powerful and important. We cheat more readily when we are emotionally or physically tired. Tom Hoffman explained that there is not yet a clear link between well worn neural pathways and cheating.  But that may be yet the case, because some Harvard research suggests a cycle of cheat-justify in our minds-cheat again. It gets easier and more automatic with each repetition. I look at these and other reasons and conclude that, more often than not, when we cheat we are barely or not at all aware of our doing it. We can rationalize a cheating choice in a nanosecond and move on. What’s missing is our conscious awareness at the point of choice–e.g. “Shall I cheat on my expense account?.” To the degree we see ourselves as honest, upstanding individuals, if we make ourselves aware when we are about to cheat, we give ourselves the best chance of making the alternative choice. So, what does the leader do about this? Well, first he/she models a behavior of integrity. People see it; most will emulate it. Secondly, include honesty among the enterprise’s core values. It won’t make a big difference but it provides another opportunity to engage the conscious, logical part of everyone’s brains. Finally, talk frequently about honesty and exhort every employee, whenever they encounter that most human temptation to cheat, to ask themselves–very deliberately: “What kind of a person am I? “Do I want to be the kind of person who opts for dishonesty in this situation?” © 2014, Ian Cook. All rights reserved.

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