A Leadership Development Code of Ethics

I have a lot of unwritten rules around ethics, confidentiality, and behaviors that I adhere to and expect anyone that works on my team to adhere to when practicing leadership development. They are just things I’ve picked up over the years based on my own personal values, learning from others, and a lot of mistakes. I’m usually pretty flexible about most things, but on these I don’t give an inch.

Here’s an experience that I’ll never forget that had a big impact on me. I was in my early twenties and just starting a new position as a corporate trainer. I was in a meeting with my supervisor, manager, and vice-president – three levels of hierarchy. We were in the process of rolling out a new supervisors training program, and a component of the program was sending out surveys to the participant’s employees and manager. The forms (no online surveys back then) were supposed to be sent directly to an outside vendor for the purpose of needs assessment and evaluation. I found out the manager wanted to keep copies of the surveys for each individual supervisor – without telling anyone. “No one will know, and it would be good information to have to know who our good and bad supervisors are” was the rationale. Being young and naïve, I was appalled, and gave an impromptu and passionate speech on the evils of such an approach. I said I’d refuse to be a part of it. My supervisor turned white, the manager turned purple, …… and the vice-president agreed with me.

It wasn’t the best way to manage up and influence, and my manager wasn’t too pleased with me in the short term. But in the long term, it paid off. Over the years I’ve had lots of opportunity to refine my technique (less confrontation, more influence), but I’ve stuck to my guns and have never been fired for it.

I’m wondering how common these rules are for others who work in leadership development, or talent management – i.e., those in HR, training, coaching, and consulting.

Last year the International Coaching Federation adopted a Coaching Code of Ethics.

I’m going to follow their lead and propose a Leadership Development Code of Ethics:

1. I will not divulge leadership assessment results (360s, MBTIs, DISCs, etc…) to anyone other than the recipient of the assessment, unless it is clearly stated in writing whom the assessment data will be shared with.

2. When facilitating a talent review meeting, I will never share the details of these confidential discussions with anyone who was not at the meeting. What’s said in the room stays in the room.

3. I will not share the details of discussions that occur during a training program to the participant’s managers, nor will I share my assessment of the trainee’s behavior or leadership potential (unless it is clearly stated upfront that assessment or grading is part of the program).

4. I will not share succession planning information with anyone but the owner of these plans. I will never tell, or even hint, to anyone about their potential status.

5. When coaching a manager, or helping with a development plan, I’ll not share with anyone the details of our discussion.

6. I will at all times strive to be a role model for the leadership behaviors we are responsible for developing. There is no “on and off” switch.

7. I’ll maintain a high level of respect for the leaders I work with. There will be no “boss-bashing” or “witch hunts”. My role is to help the good ones become great, the struggling ones become better, and establish a culture and processes that weed out the bad ones. I’ll look for good examples instead of always looking for flaws.

8. I will not practice cult-like or just plain wacky leadership development programs or practices. I won’t use my role to advance my spiritual beliefs or social causes. I’m paid to develop proven leadership and management competencies – it’s not social work or a personal pulpit.

Note: this rule applies to corporate or government organizations; it of course would not apply to church-based leadership development programs.

9. I will treat external vendors/suppliers/coaches/trainers/contractors with respect and look for win-win partnerships. I will not bully or take advantage of these partners.

10. I will respect the intellectual property of others. Copyrights and trademarks will be honored.

Warning: stubbornly refusing to bend on these rules could get you fired, or at least irritate some very powerful people. But then again, so could breaking them. Which would you rather be fired for?