Cost of Business

While on a business trip, over dinner the conversation turned toward how business was done back in the day. One of the managers mentioned that he used to sign off on huge expense bills for strip clubs. All agreed that in those days customers expected to be treated to dinner and strip show. It was just the way business was done and there was no getting around it.

I was incensed and thought to myself that I would never sign that kind of expense report no matter how much it was expected, and would rather give up my job than treat such behavior as normal and condoned.

But as I thought about it later, I wondered whether I really had that right and responsibility. That is, as a middle manager, you are expected to carry out the policies and goals of your superiors. Participating yourself in immoral activity is clearly out. But we are not called to be the moral police over everyone we can find some way to control.

To put some examples on it, do you imagine that Daniel in the Babylonian court approved of all the activities he oversaw? Do you think Nehemiah set the moral tone for the Persian court? Do you think Joseph reformed Egypt’s morals as regent for the pharaoh?

So what would you do? These quandaries come in all colors and sizes. Sometimes it is failing to comply with a seemingly harmless governmental or internal regulation. Sometimes it is distortion and selective representation to support an agenda.

What would you do? How far does your responsibility extend? Ought you require that your supervisor’s ethical standards match your own?