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The Question:

I'm the program director of a human services agency. I'm pretty sure the CEO wants to push me out, and radically reshape our highly successful program. She's not a boss I can sit down and discuss this with. I became convinced she wants me to leave a week ago as the result of a memo sent to me; I've had the thought for a while. I've watched this happen with other senior staff (I've been there for 18 years). I'm looking for work now as I have family obligations.

What are my ethical obligations to: the agency itself; productive employees who the CEO has indicated she doesn't trust; funding sources who don't trust the CEO; and program clients?

The First Answer:

Bill Howatt

Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

I appreciate the challenge you face and your difficulty working with a CEO whom you appear not to trust. One ethical obligation is not to assume your CEO's intentions without the facts.

Ethics are a set of minimum standards for individual conduct that take into account what is best for all parties. The solution in most ethical dilemmas faced by professionals requires an action that often can be uncomfortable. As a manager, your ethical adequacy will ultimately be evaluated by your commitment to the organization's long-term success, before your own. Making decisions without the facts may not be ethically congruent or in the organization's best interests.

Consider asking your CEO, "Could you help me understand what sparked this memo now, and your expectations with respect to my role going forward?"

This conversation could create a new beginning. Perhaps the CEO was venting her frustrations. Upon reflection, she may not want to lose 18 years of experience, and you may become a positive influence. By addressing your CEO, you will be ethically congruent with your organization's best interests.

Another question is whether your personal ethics will be compromised by working with a leader you do not trust. Would that be congruent with the organization? If the conversation does not lead to positive change, then perhaps finding a new job is ethically best for you.

Only you can answer this question, based on your personal ethics.

The Second Answer:

Heather MacKenzie

The Integrity Group, Vancouver

You obviously have a duty to your employer, but I can't figure out where these additional ethical duties relating to the stakeholders you list come from. For example, does your agency operate outside the private business sector such as not-for-profit, registered charity, or government organization? Is there something truly unethical you need to reveal (like a "whistleblower"), or do you just want to dish some dirt on the CEO before you leave?

You have apparently seen other senior staff exit but it is only now you feel the need to address things. If there really are historical problems with this CEO, you should have dealt with those when they arose: being a bystander all this time has reduced your effectiveness and credibility. You say she is not a boss you can sit down with, but you don't mention trying to do this before, and you've nonetheless stayed there for 18 years.

It strikes me that your motivation to take action is tied to what you perceive is a threat against your job security. But something else must be going on here. Without knowing what that key memo actually said, I can't give advice about it supposedly putting your job in jeopardy, or where your "ethical duties" arise.

I certainly think your investment of time in the agency, and commitment to colleagues, make it worthwhile trying to hash things out with the CEO. You may discover that there is no crisis as you imagine. But maybe it is time for you to move on. If so, be careful what you say about your CEO: You put yourself at risk for legal action if it turns into breach of trust, libel, or slander.

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