Published by jgbermel on 15 Jan 2014

The Way to Unethical Behavior is Paved with Rationalizations

In making tough decisions, don’t be distracted by rationalizations. Here are some of the most common:

If It’s Necessary It’s Ethical
This rationalization is based on the false assumption that necessity breeds propriety. This type of reasoning often leads to ends-justify-the-means reasoning and treating tasks or goals as moral imperatives.

The False Necessity Trap
As Nietsche put it, “necessity is an interpretation, not a fact.” We tend to fall into the “false necessity trap” because we overestimate the cost of doing the right thing and underestimate the cost of failing to do so.

If It’s Legal and Permissible, It’s Proper
This substitutes legal requirements (which establish minimal standards of behavior) for personal moral judgment. This alternative does not embrace the full range of ethical obligations, especially for those involved in upholding the public trust. Ethical people often choose to do less than what is maximally allowable and more than what is minimally acceptable.

I Was Just Doing It for You
This is the primary justification for committing “little white lies” or withholding important information in personal or professional relationships, such as performance reviews. This rationalization pits the values of honesty and respect against the value of caring. An individual deserves the truth because he has a moral right to make decisions about his or her own life based on accurate information. This rationalization overestimates other people’s desire to be “protected” form the truth, when in fact most people would rather have unpleasant information than be deluded into believing falsehoods. Consider the perspective of people lied to: if they discovered the lie, would they thank you for being considerate or feel betrayed, patronized, or manipulated?

I’m Just Fighting Fire With Fire
This is based on the false assumption that deceit, lying, promise-breaking, etc. are justified if they are the same sort of behavior engaged in by those with whom you are dealing.

It Doesn’t Hurt Anyone
Used to excuse misconduct, this rationalization is based on the false assumption that one can violate ethical principles so long as there is no clear and immediate harm to others. It treats ethical obligations simply as factors to be considered in decision making rather than as ground rules. Problem areas: Asking for or giving special favors to family, friends, or public officials, disclosing non-public information to benefit others, using one’s position for personal advantages.

Everyone’s Doing It
This is a false, “safety in numbers” rationale fed by the tendency to uncritically adopt cultural, organizational, or occupational behavior systems as if they were ethical norms just because they are norms.

It’s Okay If I Don’t Gain Personally
This justifies improper conduct done for others or for institutional purposes on the false assumption that personal gain is the only test of impropriety. A related, but more narrow excuse, is that only behavior resulting in improper financial gain warrants ethical criticism.

I’ve Got It Coming
People who feel they are overworked or underpaid rationalize that minor “perks” or acceptance of favors, discounts, or gratuities are nothing more than fair compensation for services rendered. This is also used to excuse abuse of sick time, insurance claims, overtime, personal phone calls, photocopying, etc.

I Can Still Be Objective
This is a particularly dangerous rationalization, for if one truly loses objectivity, one has also lost the ability to perceive this handicap. It is fairly easy to underestimate the subtle ways in which gratitude, friendship, anticipation of future favors and the like affect judgment. Ask yourself. Does the person providing you with the benefit believe that it will in no way affect your judgment? Would the benefit still be provided if you were in no position to help the provider in any way?

From: Making Ethical Decisions, 1995 Ed.


Published by jgbermel on 28 May 2012

Does Low Pay Breed Corruption?

I recently responded to a statement from a Kenyan that came about in the Policeone forum.  The original post stated this, “global salary scale for police. in my view it would help curb corruption if police were paid well or got some of the incentives soldiers enjoy.. in Kenya for example they are not taxed.”

I posted my thoughts:

I am skeptical that a global wage scale would have an effect on curbing corruption. I base my skepticism on a couple factors. Primarily, Corruption is not a matter of economics, it is a matter of the heart. In the United States for example, we have a diverse police pay economy. Officers in certain areas make much more than officers in other areas, but corruption happens at a similar rate generally speaking. It isn’t about how much money you have, it’s about how much money you want. As long as public servants, including police have a poverty mindset, i.e. a mindset that tells you, “What I have is never enough,” we will have corruption. It does not matter how much money one makes, they are either satisfied or they are not.

Corruption (and anti-corruption) is global. You can find corruption throughout the globe in both wealthy and poor countries. You can also find poor countries and poor public service workers globally who are not corrupt. These people seem to rise above the corruption and either not engage or decide that enough is enough and break the cycle of corruption. This is my experience in Eastern Africa. I have met some wonderful police there who have made a very unpopular decision there to live within their means and stop taking bribes.

If we do want to claim an economic bent to corruption, the economic principles are basic, you get paid what you are worth, or, you get paid to the best of your employer’s ability. I am keenly aware that there are underpaid police in all corners of he world. This is not always because of the skill of the workers. In some cases there simply is not enough money to pay public servants. We do this job for so many reasons and compensation is just one of them. Who in the U.S. has not taken a 0% or fractional raise in the last few years? In these conditions, you better know why you got into this work, or you will find yourself wanting more. Globally, you better know why you got into this work, because it involves so much more than pay.

Finally, to curb corruption, focus n what you do have, not what you do not have. My friend in Kenya said it best:

“Gitahi Kanyeki TO THE POLICE OFFICERS——SURELY EVEN IF OUR SALARIES ARE LITTLE, what would those people who are living in 30/= per-day say we have shelters,we have water,some of us dont walk to our places of work,some we have free electricity,50/% fifty percent of our life in a day we are in uniform and government shoes and socks,… sweaters and jacket.-we save on clothing.DOES IT MEAN that we should make sure we have to milk members of the public their little 100/=to justify that we get little salary.please my fellow police officers let us stop this madness you are just cursing yourselves you will be given money meant to buy coffin just imagine what it means to you”


Published by jgbermel on 18 Mar 2012

Life After the Promotional Process

Principles for handling the results of a promotional process – good or bad

Do a simple search and you will find many resources offering strategies to prepare for a promotional exam.  You will also find an equal number offering strategies for participating in a promotional process.  But do a search for how to live in your organization after a process and you will find precious few resources to help you after the process.  Ironically, the post process period is the time that will most define your character and value to the organization.  So, in the spirit of serving excellently, I would like to set the bar and offer strategies for how to finish a promotional process well, regardless of what side of the decision you are on.

A word for those who got the promotion…

It’s okay to celebrate.  You worked hard to earn what you got.  Take some time to reflect on the process and enjoy your accomplishment.  Enjoy the congratulatory pats on the back and phone calls you will receive.  You deserve it.

We are all called to serve for a particular purpose. You didn’t win a contest, you earned a promotion.  What happened leading to the decision was not a statement of preference over other people.  This is a matter of fit, fit for a particular time or place.  Earning a promotion does not make you a better person or employee than those who did not earn the promotion, it simply means you were the best match in the organization for the particular skill set required for the particular position at the particular time.  There are other talented people in the organization that can outperform and outshine you in some areas.  You are recognized as someone who realizes your own strengths and limitations and can make decisions that benefit the entire organization in the long run.  Learn your people’s strengths and use them for the benefit of who you work for.

Humility.  Always think more of others than you think of yourself.  This keeps you humble.  Your promotion does not  immunize you from mistakes, as a matter of fact, the mistakes you make (and you will make them) will be magnified.  Treat people well, respect them.  You will need their grace someday.  Consider this too…You may someday work for someone who is working for you now.

To whom much is given, much is expected. Work hard.  Grow.  You have not “made it.”  You have not reached the pinnacle of your career.  You are just getting started, learning a new job, learning a new skill set, growing, learning expanding.  This requires hard work.  You cannot afford to rely on achievements.  The principle at work here is this…to whom much is given, much is expected.  You must grow in your new position and constantly find ways to learn and challenge yourself.  It is the only way you will gain respect in your new position.

…and for those who did not get the position you worked so hard for…

Anger, frustration and disappointment are natural human emotions.  You worked hard for a shot at whatever the position is you applied for.  You probably deserved it.  You probably would have been good at it.  You just got through laying yourself open for examination in what was most likely a stressful and grueling process.  You did not get the position.  It is okay to be mad about it.  The key is not in that you are angry; the key is in how you handle your anger.

Effective leaders know the value of a confidant.  A confidant is that person who is an exceptional listener who will hold you accountable.  Find a confidant then share your frustration, anger, and disappointment with just that person in a confidential setting.  You will feel better and if you have found a confidant you can trust, you will walk away with a better perspective of how you are feeling.  The squad room or break room is not the proper place to express your frustration, anger and disappointment.

Grace is essential.  Be gracious.  Show some class.  Call the person up who got the promotion and congratulate them.  Write them a note of congratulations.  Offer to help and serve them as they transition to a new position.  This will go very far in soothing the post-process awkwardness and you will come across as a classy person.  The person who got the position probably feels as awkward as you do.  Don’t wait until you are done being angry, disappointed and frustrated to show some grace.  That can take too long.  The sooner the better for this one.  Your peers (and bosses) are probably looking to you to see how you will react.

Timing is key.  You did not lose a contest, what happened is that you were not chosen for a promotion.  The decision was a matter of fit.  For some reason, you were not a fit for this position at this time.  Go to your boss and ask them what you need to work on to be a better fit next time.  What you see and what they see may be very different.  Good or bad, listen to your boss and take what they say to heart.  You do not have to agree with what they say, but you do have to take their perspective to heart.  They are doing you a favor by sharing their thinking (even if it hurts a little).  A special note for bosses — be honest with your employees about their strengths and limitations and choose a proper setting to have this discussion one-on-one.

Things will look different tomorrow than they do today.  Your career is not over.  I know that this does not seem realistic right now.  In fact, it probably seems like some very large doors have decidedly slammed shut for you.  This is a matter of perspective.  Things change in an organization.  Philosophy changes, leadership changes, political climate changes.  None of us can ever really know what the future holds, so do not blow yours.  You may eventually find yourself in an atmosphere that is the perfect fit for your skill set.  I tried three times for a detective position in our department and did not get it.  Over a half-decade later, I was supervising the detective unit.  Tomorrow, things will not be as they seem today.

Leadership is about more than position. You can be an effective leader regardless of your position in the organization and you can find many opportunities for leadership outside of the organization as well.  Explore some of these opportunities, learn, and grow through them.  Position is only one small part of leadership.  How people view you as a person is key.  What you do to make your unit, shift, squad room, etc. better is key.  How you help and grow those around you is key.  You still hold value to the organization.  Remember, people are looking to you to see how you will react.  Leadership is more about attitude than anything else.

But you just don’t understand…

A natural response to what you have just read could be, “He just doesn’t understand my circumstances.  Our place is so unique.”  Maybe you feel the person who got the position is a flaming sycophant (look it up), maybe you feel the political situation is so rotten that good people do not stand a chance, maybe you feel the bosses are such morons that there is no hope they will make the right decision.  These feelings are not unique.  They are universal, just as the principles that help address them.

Now is a good time for you to know my pedigree.  Three times trying for detective and not getting it. Three times trying for sergeant and not getting it. Twice trying for detective sergeant and not getting it.  Five times trying for captain and not getting it.  Finalist and semi-finalist for police chief positions and not getting it.  If this were baseball, I would be batting .200.  I have felt the anger, frustration, bitterness, disappointment and depression of not being good enough (or so I thought at the time).  I believe that no experience is wasted and that even disappointing and depressing circumstances can serve some good once we are on the other side.  We can either choose to let our circumstances destroy us or we can choose to let our circumstances build our character.

I often wonder why I am where I am professionally, particularly when I feel stuck or exiled in a certain place.  I have decided to believe this…That I am right where I am supposed to be to best serve those I am called to serve.  I also believe it is my choice if I want to serve excellently wherever I find myself physically, mentally or emotionally.  Opportunities to impact and influence are all around us, but we must be in a state of mind, or better yet, we must have an attitude that seeks opportunities wherever we are, no matter what our formal role is.

Be confident your future holds much for you, regardless of your circumstances today.


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