It is very important that leaders are clear about and enforce standards of acceptable behavior.  You will never win long-term in an “anything goes” environment.  People will get easily confused if you take a situational approach to moral and ethical issues.  If something is wrong for one person, it is equally wrong for someone else.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is that “we are what we tolerate.”

Whenever there is a lack of clarity people, just like children, will push the boundaries to see if they are real or not.  A certain percentage of the population will want to test the status quo to get what they want.  However, most of us are smart enough to realize that that without some basic rules of conduct it all breaks down and the larger group suffers.  People want consistency from their leaders.  They also seek guidance and direction.  Never forget that you set the moral compass in your company.

The real test comes when employees who are very good at their jobs want the rules to be different for them.  They figure that their level of performance should cut them some slack.  Wall Street is a perfect example of what happens when this mindset is taken to an extreme.  It should never be just about the results.  It should always matter how you get there.

Jack Welch used to talk a lot about numbers and values.  His contention was that people who hit their numbers but don’t share your values are potentially very dangerous to your company culture.  My experience working with many different leaders over the years only validates this perspective.  A leader has many responsibilities but one of the most important is building a strong company culture based on shared values with clear boundaries of moral and ethical behavior including treating each other with dignity and respect.