The Danger of Loose Cannon Ethics

By Matt Harvey

2 min read | Feb 28, 2011

In the volatile life of a young company, success often comes to those who take risks. The willingness to try new ideas and ways of doing things is a valuable trait within a startup culture. But earlier this month, an up-and-coming Silicon Valley firm was publicly embarrassed by a young engineer’s overzealous suggestions. At what point does risk-taking become bad ethics?

What type of culture exists where any employee considers bad ethical choices as viable tactics?

In this particular case, the company responded by placing the engineer on leave, and then claimed they did not even possess the technical capacity to act on the young engineer’s questionable strategies. However, that response sidesteps the real issue. What type of culture exists where any employee considers bad ethical choices as viable tactics? Rather than approaching this issue as a public relations embarrassment, a company leader should consider this opportunity as a teachable moment for all employees. Doing so allows a commitment to the highest ethical standards to become a central tenet of the growing company’s culture.

In the following video, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina discusses the role of ethics in a company. She describes the reality that many organizations will tolerate behavior “on the edge,” because these choices often produce better results in the short term. However, leaders who tolerate these ethical lapses are not only gambling with long-term results, but according to Fiorina, they are also abdicating their core leadership responsibility to show that “values matter and ethics count.”


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