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Leadership Ethical Traps

One of my CEO leadership coaching clients knows that for his company to thrive she needs to create a climate of trust wit engaged employees. I am consulting with the CEO to consider firing a company vice president. The vice president has betrayed everyone’s trust by a pattern of lying and deceit.

The CEO knows that for the company to thrive depends on all company leaders to create a work environment where leaders are respected. She is empowering her senior executive team to create a culture of trust and accountability. Human Resources is partnering with the CEO to repair the trust that was broken. Our current executive coaching and leadership consulting work is focused on helping leaders at all levels create a culture of trust.

Root Causes of Ethical Traps

Obedience to authority is a “primary” trap, which means a strong external stimulus impels us to move in a certain direction, without regard for our ethical principles.

In business, people don’t abandon their ethics simply because they want to maximize profits. Rather, their drive to acquire and improve their status lures them into a social-psychological trap.

This often happens in small steps—yet another trap. If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out quickly. But if you place it in the pot and slowly increase the heat, it will remain there and be cooked.
Small steps and choices create minor ethical transgressions that do little harm, but they set the direction that eventually leads to major, irreversible violations.

Primary Ethical Traps

In The Ethical Executive (Stanford University Press, 2008), Robert Hoyk and Paul Hersey describe 45 ethical traps inherent in any organizational environment.

Hoyk and Hersey describe three types of social-psychological traps that occur in the workplace: primary, defensive and personality. They include:
1. Obedience to authority
2. Small steps
3. Indirect responsibility
4. Faceless victims
5. Lost in the group
6. Competition
7. Self-interest
8. Tyranny of goals
9. Money
10. Conformity
11. Power
12. Obligation
13. Time pressures
When we carefully review and understand these traps, we can prepare for—and avoid—them. Our choices become sound.

Are you working in a company or law firm where leaders model integrity and there is a culture of trust? Does your company or law firm provide leadership coaching and leadership development to help leaders earn employees trust? During tough economic times, leaders need to fully engage their people in building a culture of trust and accountability.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a leader with integrity who inspires people and builds trust?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching and leadership development for leaders who want to create a work environment where employees are engaged and trust company leaders.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-i CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you create an organization that trusts leaders will do the right thing. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

I am currently accepting new executive coaching, career coaching, and leadership consulting clients. I work with both individuals and organizations. Call 415-546-1252 or send an inquiry e-mail to

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