Episode 87 – Being Ethical Takes Courage

Episode #87
Original Air Date: 08.19.2019

35 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Bruce Weinstein

Project Managers are faced with tough ethical choices every day. As a PM, do you know the right thing to do? Do you have the courage to do it?

Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy®, talks to organizations around the world about ethical leadership. Bruce has a Ph.D. in philosophy with a concentration in bioethics. His books include "Ethical Intelligence: Five Principles for Untangling Your Toughest Problems at Work and Beyond," and "The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees.”

In this episode, Bruce identifies the five principles of ethical intelligence and discusses acceptable behavior in the workplace. Bill describes several workplace scenarios to get Bruce’s advice on common ethical problems facing a PM. Take a look at Bruce's InSite course on our website: Leading with Ethical Intelligence: Five Principles for Making the Right Decisions Every Time.

Learn More About Bruce's InSite Course "Leading with Ethical Intelligence"

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

“There are essentially two questions that ethics seeks to answer: what should I do, and who should I be?”

- Bruce Weinstein

“But sometimes being faced with a moral dilemma, with an ethical problem, can really get to the core of who we are.”

- Bruce Weinstein

“..... what can happen if we let the worst parts of ourselves get the best of us.”

- Bruce Weinstein

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The podcast for project managers by project managers. Ethics seeks to answer two questions: what should I do, and who should I be? Hear expert ethical advice from The Ethics Guy, Bruce Weinstein.

Table of Contents

00:54 … Meet Bruce
01:34 … Ethics and an Ethicist
03:15 … Becoming an Ethicist
05:53 … It Takes Courage to be Ethical
07:10 … Emotional Intelligence vs. Ethical Intelligence
08:43 … Five Ethical Intelligence Principles
09:05 … 1. Do No Harm
09:58 … 2. Make Things Better
12:11 … 3. Respect Others
12:30 … 4. Be Fair
12:49 … 5. Be Caring
14:55 … Fearsome foursome Topics to Avoid
17:51 … An Unethical Assignment
20:46 … Telling the Truth the Ethical Way
23:57 … Building Trust
25:33 … Withholding Information
27:51 … Ethical Response to Anger
31:55 … Get in Touch with The Ethics Guy
33:59 … Closing

BRUCE WEINSTEIN: “There are essentially two questions that ethics seeks to answer:  what should I do, and who should I be?” 

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Every couple of weeks we meet to talk about what really matters to you as a professional project manager.  We seek out people who are right there in the thick of all kinds of projects to see what motivates them, what challenges them, and also how they manage those challenges.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me is the one who is constantly challenging me to be my best, Bill Yates.  And Bill, this time around we’re going to talk about the difference between right and wrong, am I right?

BILL YATES:  You’re right.  You’re always right.  And fortunately we’ve got an answer man in the room with us.  So all of our questions, all of our ethical questions that we ever have about any project or project team situation, he’s going to answer.

NICK WALKER:  Every one.

BILL YATES:  Every one.

NICK WALKER:  Okay.  Okay.  I can’t wait.

BILL YATES:  This one could run long.

Meet Bruce

NICK WALKER:  So our guest is Bruce Weinstein, known as “The Ethics Guy” he shows organizations around the world how ethical leadership is the key to sustained success.  Bruce has a Ph.D. in philosophy, with a concentration in bioethics.  He’s an ethics and leadership speaker and trainer.  He’s also appeared more than 200 times on national and international news programs, and he writes a leadership column for Forbes.com. His books include “Ethical Intelligence: Five Principles for Untangling Your Toughest Problems at Work and Beyond”, “The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees”, and, for tweens and teens, “Is It Still Cheating if I Don’t Get Caught?” 

Ethics and an Ethicist

BILL YATES:  Bruce, one of the first things I’ve got to ask you is this fancy word “ethicist.”  So give us a definition for an ethicist, and then how did you decide you wanted to become one?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Well, an ethicist is someone who teaches ethics for a living. And so that strange word that no one can pronounce or spell is the reason why I decided to call myself “The Ethics Guy” and trademark it because that’s something that everyone can say. And I think it conveys a sense of, you know, ethics is really for everyone, and so it shouldn’t be solely the domain of academics.

BILL YATES:  Okay, so one of the definitions I saw for ethics, and this may have been in your book, was to identify right conduct and good behavior.  Is that a good working definition?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So, there are essentially two questions that ethics seeks to answer:  what should I do, and who should I be? And the first focuses on conduct or behavior, and it appeals to the principles that I’ll be talking about here today, the principles of ethical intelligence.  And it’s almost like solving a puzzle, what should I do here, in this case, with these facts, at this time?

The second question goes deeper.  To ask “who should I be” talks about the qualities of character that we should develop over the course of a lifetime.  So, for example, the difference might be, a principle-based approach to doing ethics would be should I tell the truth to this person right now? And a character or virtue-based approach – and I don’t like to use the term “character,” which we can talk about, but a character-based approach would be how can I develop honesty to a greater degree in my life?  How can I be a more honest person?  And that covers the span of our lives.

Becoming an Ethicist?

BILL YATES:  Got you.  Okay, one other, and this is a curiosity that Bill has, so forgive me for this one.  Did you become an expert on ethics because you got picked on a lot when you were a kid?  Did you have like a mean sister?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Oh, well, I’ve never heard that.  Well, one of the reasons I was picked on a lot is because I was a Jew growing up in Texas, and people were always trying to convert me. And I also remember getting swung around the neck by my mezuzah in a pool.  So, but that didn’t really have anything to do with ethics, I mean, all these traumas affect you in some way.  But the real reason is because I grew up in San Antonio, and in our government class junior year we were asked to pick three books that had something to do with politics, and we could choose whatever we wanted and write an essay.  And my dad had – do you remember the Franklin Library series of books?


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  They had these beautiful leather-bound and with gold trimming.

BILL YATES:  Sure, yeah.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  And they were really elegantly done.  A lot of love went into those books, and so one of the books my dad had was “The Republic” by Plato.  And I had never read any philosophy before.  So I thought, well, that’s about politics, I’ll read that, and I was fascinated by how exciting and dramatic it was.  And he writes in dialogue, so it really reads like a great movie script, but about things that really matter, where the stakes could not be higher.  So that sort of whetted my appetite for philosophy.

When I went to Swarthmore College I took an ethics class, and I said, now, this is great.  What could be more important than studying how we ought to live our lives?  And I actually went to medical school briefly because my father was a physician, and I thought I would go down that path.  But after three months I said, no, I’m going to try something else, and ethics was the way I wanted to go.  And it’s funny because a lot of people with my training become professors, and I did that for six years.  But after about, well, six years I said, I want the world to be my classroom, I want to share this material with the world, and do it in a way that’s really accessible.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Well, that is so relevant to the conversation that we’re having today because we have project managers out there who are listening, who are thinking, okay, there are tough choices, tough decisions that I have to make every day. So I have to decide, do I raise my hand on this?  Do I raise my voice on this?  Is there an objection that I should voice?  Or is this okay?  And so I really appreciate you spending the time with us today to talk about ethics and the impact that it can have on project managers.

It Takes Courage to be Ethical

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Now, I know this is the interview where you’re interviewing me, but I have a question for you about that which is, would you say, generally speaking for project managers, when there’s an ethical question that comes up that the project manager really doesn’t know what the right thing to do is, or that he or she knows what the right thing to do is, but may not have the courage to do it?

BILL YATES:  See, I love that, so you’re pushing right into the – that’s the sticky question, right?  So that’s the question we’ll pose back to our listeners and say, okay, do we know the right thing to do?  Do we have the courage to do it?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Yes.  Yeah.  Because quite frankly I think, well, they’re difficult in two different ways, and Mark Twain once said, “It’s strange that physical courage is so common and moral courage is so rare.”  You know, it’s one thing to go into battle, and I can’t even imagine doing that.  But sometimes being faced with a moral dilemma, with an ethical problem, can really get to the core of who we are and be troubling. And, so you know, we hear this a lot, I want to be able to sleep at night, and that’s why I decided, say, to tell the truth.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So I wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.  I have to be true to myself.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  I have to be true to myself, and yet sometimes it really isn’t clear what the right thing to do is.

Emotional Intelligence vs. Ethical Intelligence

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Now, before we go deeper into a model for ethical intelligence, EI can stand for two things.  It can stand for Emotional Intelligence or Ethical Intelligence, so let’s draw the distinction here between the two.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So let’s say that you and I know each other pretty well, and we run into one another at the local Starbucks, and you say, “Hey, Bruce, how are you?”  And I say, “I’m fine.”  I say I’m fine, but you can tell I’m anything but fine.  So you can perceive that I’m not the way I usually am.  And that is your emotional intelligence that allows you to do that.  Because you’re perceptive, you’re not thinking merely about yourself, and that’s what emotionally intelligent people are.  They are attuned, not just to themselves, but to other people.

But then the question is, so what should I do now?  Bruce says he’s fine, but he’s not. So should I just, he’s a big boy, he can work it out himself?  Should I call his wife?  Should I ask him then and there?  What’s the right thing to do?  Emotional intelligence can’t answer that question because emotional intelligence is a psychological concept, and ethical intelligence is an ethical or philosophical or theological one.  So we need a different set of concepts or principles to address that.

And that’s where the principles of ethical intelligence comes in.  And so what I like to say when I’m giving a presentation to audiences, to project managers, that the best project managers are both emotionally intelligence and ethically intelligent, you need both to be a great leader.

Five Ethical Intelligence Principles

BILL YATES:  Okay, very good. So Bruce, one of the things that I really appreciated in your book, “Ethical Intelligence: Five Principles for Untangling Your Toughest Problems at Work and Beyond,” was just what that subtitle says. You give five principles.  They’re nice.  They’re short.  Let’s just quickly go through the five, and then I may ask you to delineate a little bit further on those.


BILL YATES:  But let’s talk those through.

1. Do No Harm

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So the most fundamental of all is do no harm, and we know that physicians are taught in medical school first, do no harm.

BILL YATES:  Absolutely, yup.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN: Also nursing students, pharmacy students, dental students, clinical social work, that part of being a healthcare professional is to make sure that you don’t make the patient worse off.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  We want to make the patient better off.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  But when you think about it, as you mentioned, it really applies to everyone. And so I was speaking to some eighth-graders in New York, and I asked, “When you hear ‘do no harm,’ who do you think of?”  And one student said, “I think of hippies.”  And another student said, “I think of vegetarians.”


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  The teacher said, “I think of police officers,”  And so it’s really hard to envision what society would look like, how chaotic it would be if we didn’t have the “do no harm” principles as the foundation. 

2. Make Things Better

And that takes us to the second principle, make things better. So it’s funny, on the plane ride down here from New York, at the beginning of the flight, the flight attendant said, “In the event of the loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down.”  And if you’re with a small child, you put the mask on the child first because it’s very important, right, to make sure that the kids are protected, right?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I don’t think so.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  No, they don’t say that, do they.

BILL YATES:  That’s not my flight.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Nope, that wasn’t.  No.  Well, I was on Econo Air.  I guess they didn’t really pay attention…

BILL YATES:  Contra Air.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Contra Air.  I hope there isn’t really an Econo Air out there, but if there is, I’m sure that you are a highly ethical company. Actually, I’m not sure.  How would I know? So we’re not going to take a position on Econo Air. But getting back to what the flight attendant says, why does the flight attendant say put the oxygen mask on yourself, even if you’re with a child?  Isn’t that selfish?

BILL YATES:  If you’re going to be efficient and able to carry out the actions that you need to, you’ve got to have oxygen, so you need to take care of yourself first in order to help others.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  What you just said is so profound and has implications for every aspect of your life. And so I wonder if project managers, like other folks, other busy people, tend to focus maybe a little too much, or maybe a lot, on giving to others, and not enough on themselves.  And this is the thing about ethics that I think is unfortunately so troubling, that we think it’s something that we ought to do and have to do with respect to other people. But as the oxygen mask example shows us, we have to look after ourselves, too, and that’s a good thing, that’s not a selfish thing.

BILL YATES:  Right, yeah.  Oxygen mask, so that’s a great metaphor for project managers.  Take care of yourself first.  If you’re healthy, you’re modeling it for the team.


BILL YATES:  And you’re able to meet their needs better.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  And then you’re able to meet the responsibilities you have to your clients, the obligations that you’ve promised.  So there’s no shame in looking after yourself and getting a good night’s sleep. I hear people brag all the time, “Oh, I only slept four hours last night,” that’s not something to brag about.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, right.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  I mean, I guess occasionally there are people who can get by.  But most of us need seven or eight.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s true.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So I do think we tend to demonize folks who take their sleep seriously.

3. Respect Others

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Isn’t that funny?  Well, there’s the third item, too, which is respect others.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Yes.  That’s the third principle.  And so from an ethical perspective, there are three ways we show respect for people:  telling the truth, keeping confidential things confidential, and keeping our promises.

4. Be Fair

BILL YATES:  Excellent, and then the fourth is be fair.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So to be fair is to give to others their due, and especially in the 21st Century.  The savviest project managers take things like diversity and inclusion seriously because it’s the fair thing to do, and it benefits their company.

5. Be Caring

BILL YATES:  Before I get ahead of myself, the fifth principle is be loving.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Well, it’s funny that you mention that.  In the book I decided to road test this idea of love and see if it flew in a business context because I thought, you know, the term “love” isn’t just a romantic idea.  It’s much broader than that classically.  But what I found going around the world teaching this is that the term “care” or “compassion” or “kindness” seems to be more fitting in a professional setting.  So I’ve changed the fifth, the name of the fifth principle to “care”, but it’s the same idea.

And I should also say that I didn’t come up with these five principles, I adapted them from a master work called “Principles of Biomedical Ethics” by Tom L Beauchamp and James Childress.  So they wrote from a philosophical point of view, and they wrote for the biomedical audience.  I simply reworded the principles to make them more accessible and broaden the scope of them.  But also, if any project manager goes to his or her code of conduct, they’ll see these principles referred to in some way.

BILL YATES:  Yes, right, right.  An analogy that I’ve seen you make is care or love, that fifth principle, is the WD-40 of relationships, so it makes all the others work. Talk about that, when a relationship gets squeaky, this is what you should apply?  Is that what you mean by that?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  I had forgotten that I said that, but that really is a brilliant turn of phrase, and I assume that I came up with that.  A friend of mine actually, when we were talking about gratitude, which you could say is related in some way to care, he talks about how gratitude greases the wheels of business.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  And by the same token, care more broadly, really does work like WD-40, just makes things work better.  But the other thing it does is it engenders great employee loyalty because how many project managers do you know leave a well-paying job to take one that might not pay as well because in the first job I felt like my manager didn’t really care about me? So I felt like my supervisor just was looking at me as a means to an end.

Fearsome Foursome Topics to Avoid

BILL YATES:  Yeah, I got you.  Okay, so we have five principles now to work off of, and I want to get into some scenarios that project managers face.  One of the, I think, for everyone in a workplace, one of the first questions is the fearsome foursome. So you describe the fearsome foursome in the book, and I think it’s excellent advice for professionals, there are topics that we should avoid in the workplace.


BILL YATES:  Can you describe what those are?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So the obvious ones are sex, money, specifically how much you make, religion, and, you know, we’re recording this in the year before the presidential election in the United States, politics.

We can talk movies.  We could also talk about TV shows, what we ate for dinner.  What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

BILL YATES:  Oh, boy.  Maybe a coffee mocha.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Coffee mocha.  Let’s say I like vanilla.  Would you say – you might say, Bruce has different tastes than I do.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, okay, right, right.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  But he’s not wrong for liking…

BILL YATES:  Just has different tastes.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  …Swiss almond mocha licorice fudge or whatever it is, but if you and I are on different sides of a political issue, a controversial…

BILL YATES:  That’s different.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  …political issue or a political candidate, you don’t think I have a different point of view.  You think I’m mistaken.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  And then it’s a short leap from “Bruce is mistaken” to “Bruce is an idiot, and I don’t want to work with him.”

BILL YATES:  I don’t want him on my team, yeah.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  And the thing is, most of these political discussions have nothing to do with the project at hand.  So there is no good reason to talk about politics at work, and every good reason to leave it behind.

BILL YATES:  Got you.  That’s good.  Yeah, there are things that we can joke about, you know, favorite sports team, flavors of ice cream, favorite movie.  Those are lighter subjects, but when you get into…

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Sure.  There are lots of things, but…

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  You talk about religion and politics, then okay, wait a minute, you’re getting too serious, yeah. Okay, so if the fearsome foursome we should avoid, then what can we – can we joke around?  Can we be lighthearted in the workplace?  Is it okay to tell jokes?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So you know, I’m afraid that with the sensitivity that has been appropriately developed in the workplace, that some folks might feel that we’re going too far in prohibiting speech or conduct that could offend anybody.  But the thing is, there are lots of jokes that a person can tell that don’t risk offending people, don’t risk committing sexual or racial harassment. There are lots of jokes, and actually, this is totally unphilosophical, but this is the rule that I use.  And when I disregard it, it does not serve me well.  If I hear a voice in my head saying, “Don’t tell that joke…”


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  …and I tell it anyway, it’s never good.

BILL YATES:  You regret it.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So you know, we’re talking about ethical intelligence and five principles.  But what it really comes down to, for the kind of people who are listening to this podcast, anyway, when that voice says, “Hey, don’t do it,” that’s worth listening to.

An Unethical Assignment

BILL YATES:  Good, yeah.  It’s good advice. So Bruce, I want to shift gears with you, and I want to talk about a situation. What do you do when your manager gives you an assignment that you think is unethical?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  I want to answer that question with another question because it really depends on the facts. So can you give me more information about what that might be?

BILL YATES:  Yeah. So let’s say, like you give an example in the book of somebody’s asked to create some false reviews online, maybe on Amazon. I think the example was for a book.  I’ve authored a book, so now, as my employee, I want you to go out and put a great review out there.


BILL YATES:  And you’ve read it, and you said, “This actually stinks.”

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Right, right. So is it better to just toe the company line and avoid making waves and make my boss happy?


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So if I may ask you, book reviews on Amazon, what’s the purpose of a book review?  They want information to make a good decision.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Now, if I’m reading all these rave reviews, and they are false, they’re lies, and I buy it, and wait a minute, people like this thing?  So how will that affect the way I look at book reviews on Amazon, will it make me trust them less? Absolutely, and it will make me respect the writer less, so nothing good comes from this. There’s a short-term benefit of some temporary book sales, but the long-range consequence is nothing positive.  And so this is an example, I think, of where one is called upon to be courageous and say, “Sir, or Ma’am, I can’t in good conscience do what you’re asking me to do.  If you’d like, though, I’d be happy to give you some suggestions for how you might improve the next draft of this book.”  That probably won’t fly.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Yeah, I like that last part, that’s really good, Bruce.  And where I’ve gotten into trouble in my career is, if all I do is say, oh, I don’t like this, but I don’t – in other words, I object, but I don’t give an option.  Or, okay, let’s think about how we can work through it.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Yes, yes, yes, yes.  Right, right, right, right.  And so that’s why the praise sandwich, I think, is a useful way of responding to challenging situations.  So if you gave me a book that I thought was junk, I might say, “Bill, I love the passion you write with.”  Now, assuming that I’m being sincere, well, how would you feel?  Would you want me to tell you some more?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah, sure.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So bring it on.  Now, this is where I stick it to you, but not in a critical or harsh way.  I might say, “But I do have some concerns. And I feel that a lot of the arguments were not very clear, and there were some references that I think were not accurate.  I would welcome a revision of this book.”  And then I end with something positive:  “And I look forward to reading the next draft and cheering you on your success.”


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Praise, criticism, praise, the praise sandwich.  It’s a great way to respond to tricky situations like this.  But the bottom line has to be I’m not going to write a lie because my boss asked me to, I’m not going to do it.

Telling the Truth the Ethical Way

BILL YATES:  Yeah, right.  One of the mottos that you have that is, I think, very applicable to business is “Truth conquers all,” and in that I think about different scenarios that project managers face.  And I think, okay, how can we look at truth conquers all, think about the five principles, and then help our project managers through some of these sticky situations?


BILL YATES:  And one of those is, what if I know something about my company that I’m – okay. So I’m a project manager, I’m employed by a company, I know something about my company, a piece of bad news, at what point should I give that piece of bad news to the customer?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  For example, what might that be?

BILL YATES:  It could be – we could be in a financial situation.  It could be that maybe we have a product that’s being recalled.  Maybe there’s a safety issue.  So there’s something that is not public yet, but that may become public.  Should I, you know, am I – ethically, what’s my consideration?  Should I go forward to the customer ahead of time?  You know, what should I do?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  One of the problems that business, not just project managers, but everyone in business faces is the trust of people in authority.  And a lot of that has been eroded because we’ve been lied to so often by so many different powerful people.  And the downside to being truthful is almost negligible compared with the downside of lying or withholding information.

And actually, it’s funny, Bill.  Last year two separate talks – I always ask my audiences in advance to tell a story about how doing something ethically intelligent resulted in something positive.  And in two separate audiences, two engineers told me that they had admitted that they made a mistake to a client.  And in one case it was going to set the construction back months.  And the engineer was petrified that the client would fire him.

But the client didn’t do that.  Instead, the client said, “This is so refreshing, to be told the truth.  Not only am I not going to fire you; but, once we finish this project, I’m going to give your company additional contracts.”  And in one case those additional contracts were for 10 years, and they netted $3 million.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN: So here’s a direct line between honesty and a financial benefit.  Now, we can’t always see a quantifiable financial benefit to being truthful.  But a lot of times we can.  And I hope one thing that project managers listening to this will do is to try to find stories like that because I’ll bet you at their company there are stories like that, and they’re not known.  Why should this be a company’s best-kept secret?  When that engineer told me this, this was in a room with 95 peers, senior leaders from around the country.  And I said, “Please raise your hand if you’ve heard Jeff’s story before.”  One hand went up, and it was Jeff’s partner.

BILL YATES:  Oh, wow, yeah.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  This makes no sense at all.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, truth conquers all.  That’s a great example.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  It’s much better than let the buyer beware; isn’t it?

BILL YATES:  Sure, yeah, yeah.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Which is also what Amazon is becoming with all these false reviews.

Building Trust

BILL YATES:  Right, right.  Another example I want to run by you, let’s say that I’m a project manager, and I have a team, and I have a very important resource on my team.  That resource is about to get pulled onto another project because our company has just won a big lucrative contract. So a new project is starting out, and my key resource is about to be snagged onto the other team.  I haven’t told my customer yet.  How long should I wait?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Well, let’s look at the question, so why do you owe your customer any explanation at all?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Because we made a promise to deliver this project, and also with these people, and the thing is, isn’t this resource going to be replaced by someone who’s also good, also capable, also qualified?  Right?

BILL YATES:  Certainly hope so, right.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  You’re not going to drop the quality.  And so I think, again, like with the situation with the engineer being honest led to greater trust, a customer who’s being told the truth will say, you know what, this company is really different from the other ones. They actually tell you the truth.  They volunteer the truth, so it’s almost as though we’re using ethics as a marketing or advertising plug.

BILL YATES:  Good, yeah.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Isn’t that amazing?

BILL YATES:  So that transparency’s building trust, that trust just takes that relationship with the customer deeper and deeper.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  And so it’s the best possible PR you could hope for.  Because what’s this customer going to do?  He’s going to tell his or her friends, hey, Acme, man, they do the right thing by you.  And they not only told me the truth, but they delivered what they said they were going to deliver.

Withholding Information

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  All right, another scenario I was thinking of was, if we have a feature that we’re to deliver on, and it’s failing, and our team has come to the realization that, okay, that’s not going to happen. So maybe in the contract it even says that that’s something we’re going to deliver on.  Again, I think I’ve got you figured out now, Bruce.  I think you’re going to say, yeah, you need to go have that conversation sooner rather than later with the customer and let him know.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  I actually think that these are more psychological than ethical dilemmas because I don’t see the ethical justification for withholding the information, or certainly not lying about it. So psychologically, yes, it’s hard to find the courage to sit down with a person, knowing that they’re probably going to be angry.  They might not want to do business with you again, but the thing is can you blame them?


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  You might lose a customer because of this, you might.  But what’s the alternative?  I mean, they’re going to find out eventually.  But what we’re talking – but that’s the cool thing about these principles is that they apply in project management and HR and in dating and in parenting.  It’s the same principles.

BILL YATES:  And so here’s an HR dilemma that I think project managers face often, which is I have a team member come to me and say, you know, I’ve got something personally that I’m dealing with. Maybe it’s a health issue, it could be a family issue, and their availability is going to change, or they can’t travel for a while, something to that effect. At what point, you know, also you’ve got kind of a leader and a team member relationship there. At what point does that leader say, oh, this is something I need to alert senior management to, my management to, or the other team members, and when should they keep it to themselves?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Yes.  So I guess it depends on what the facts are with respect to this employee, is this something that the employee really doesn’t want to be known publicly?  Is it sensitive?  How might it adversely affect that person?  So there’s some variables there.  But I do want to say I don’t want to leave the impression that in every situation a project manager is ethically obligated to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth because we want to balance being honest with not hurting people.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  And that’s the challenge.


Ethical Response to Anger

BILL YATES:  Bruce, so the reality is project managers sometimes get angry at work. Sometimes we get angry with customers.  Sometimes we get angry with those team members that are maybe not doing exactly what we’d hope they’d do.  And I want to get your feedback on the ethical way to respond when, as a project manager, as a leader of people, I am angry, what should I do?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  If I work for you, Bill, and over the course of eight years I never saw you get angry, I would think this is dangerous because Bill’s going to snap, and then who knows what’s going to happen?  It’d be strange not to feel anger, especially when someone either doesn’t do something they were supposed to do or didn’t do something they should have done.  So it’s understandable, the question is, what are we going to do with it?  And there are better and worse ways of dealing with anger.  Usually what I’ve found the worst way is to express it at the time, especially if you get an email or a text that makes you mad, to fire one back.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:   Someone close to me in my life – not my wife, but someone else – routinely fires angry emails and texts back, and they always regret it.  And as well they should because it’s nasty.  Had they just waited, written it and then not sent it, or looked at it the next day, you would have seen it once the anger cools down. So the main takeaway here is to step back for a moment.  And, you know, we use the term “timeout” for dealing with kids.  Why doesn’t that apply to us, too?  Take a timeout.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Because the thing is, if I blow up at you, and I say things that are hurtful, I can never take them back.  And you’re always going to remember it, and you’re going to think about me differently, and not in a good way, so I can never change that.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I was watching a movie, a 2014 movie called “Chef.”  It’s with…

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Oh, Jon Favreau?  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jon Favreau.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Did that make you hungry?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, incredibly so.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  It’s the food truck movie; right?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, it is, yeah, yeah.  So he’s a chef who gets burned out and then opens up a food truck, there’s the reuniting with his son and all that.  There’s a scene in that when a critic comes at him and says, “You’ve lost your edge. Ten years ago you were amazing.  Now you’re pedestrian.”  And just really blasts him, and then the character, the chef, played by Favreau, he goes off on him.  So they start this Twitter back and forth.

And then it all culminates with a scene in his own restaurant where the critic is there eating, and the chef just explodes and goes off on him.  And so it’s, I mean, literally to the point where he’s grabbing food off his plate and just crumbling it up in front of him, throwing it down.  So everybody’s watching it.  Video goes viral.  That’s the flow of the movie.  But, yeah, we all regret, you know, that’s one of those things that at times I think for PMs, when they’re about to lose it, we need to hit that pause button and go, wait a minute, we don’t want to create the viral moment.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Yes.  Well, now, it’s funny, so as you were telling that story, you were smiling, and the film is a comedy; right?


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So these kinds of conflicts make for great films and TV shows, stories, because the essence of drama is conflict.  But in real life we don’t want that kind of conflict.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So if that happened in real life, if you were Jon Favreau’s character in real life and did that, you wouldn’t be smiling, telling us that story.  You’d be filled with anxiety and regret, so it may make for a great movie, not so great in real life.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, it’s a teachable point.  Don’t be that guy.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Watch it.  Watch it in a movie.  Get it out that way, but don’t be that guy.  And in fact I think this is one of the reasons why we love movies like this, or TV shows, like “Scarface,” “The Godfather.”  These are cautionary tales. I mean, to different degrees, right, food truck versus being in a Mafia, but they show us what can happen if we let the worst parts of ourselves get the best of us.


BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Hey, I like that.  I just came up with that.  You like that phrase?

BILL YATES:  I like that a lot.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  To let the worst parts of ourselves get the…

BILL YATES:  Become the best, get the best of us.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Okay.  Whoever’s listening to this, don’t use that in a book because I’m going to use it.  Anyway.

Get in Touch with The Ethics Guy

BILL YATES:  So we’ve talked about the five principles of ethical intelligence:  do no harm, make things better, respect others, be fair, and then care or be loving, show care, compassion, and kindness. Those are a great framework for project managers to also consider, as they consider the scenario that’s presented, run it through that filter.  You’ve given great advice on anger.  You know, take a timeout.  Run it through that filter.  We appreciate your input, sir.  You are truly The Ethics Guy.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  You’re very kind.  And if anyone wants a deeper dive on this, so we’ve actually done a Velociteach course on this topic where we go into greater depth. 

BILL YATES:  I want to thank you for spending time with us today.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Oh, it’s a pleasure.  You kidding?

BILL YATES:  And Bruce, what is the best way, for those who want to go deeper, what’s the best way for them to reach you?  Is it your website?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  They could go to TheEthicsGuy.com and send me an email, or write to me at bruce@theethicsguy.com, also they can call me directly at (424) 394-0804.  (424) 394-0804.  So the name of the Velociteach course that we’ve completed is called “Leading With Ethical Intelligence,” and I think you’re going to like it because it’s high content and highly interactive, and we make it fun.  Yes, ethics can be fun.

BILL YATES:  There you go.  You hear it from the source.  That’s it.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Rock and roll.

BILL YATES:  Hey, we have one other thing we’d like to do, and that is show our appreciation for you making the trip here to our office.  And so as you go back through TSA and your travels, I hope that this mug makes it safely through your travels and is not confiscated.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  Oh.  Isn’t that nice.  Manage This.

BILL YATES:  This is a Manage This mug.  Our recommendation there is, whenever you have an angry moment, fill that with your favorite beverage, sip on that beverage, and then respond.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  So not throw it against the wall because then I can’t reuse it. I think this is a really cool logo, and it’s beautiful, thank you so much.

BILL YATES:  All right, thank you so much for being our guest, Bruce.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN:  It’s a pleasure.


NICK WALKER:  So we have a favor to ask our listeners right now, we sincerely hope these podcasts are valuable to you.  Would you let us know by leaving a review on Google, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or other podcast listening app?  You can also leave us a comment on our website, Velociteach.com, or social media.  We’d really like to hear your feedback.

And we also hope you’re taking advantage of the free PDUs, Professional Development Units that we offer to help you with your recertification.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.

That’s it for this episode of Manage This.  Thanks for joining us.  We hope you’ll tune back in for our next podcast.  Until then, keep calm and Manage This.

10 responses to “Episode 87 – Being Ethical Takes Courage”

  1. Gina Garcia says:

    Really enjoyed the ethics podcast. Very relevant for PMs and everyone managing their life!

    Thank you for providing this great podcast.

  2. Thank you, Gina! I appreciate your kind words.

    Of the several hundred interviews on ethics I’ve done over the years, this is one of my absolute favorites. Bill Yates is a terrific interviewer and conversationalist, and I’m glad you enjoyed listening to us.

  3. Anne-Sophie Drouin says:

    I like most of the “Manage This” podcasts but this one I really, really, liked! The topic can be applied to the professional world and the personal sphere. It is very relevant in today’s world with medias and whistleblowers bringing to the public’s attention unethical situations.

    I’ve been trying to teach “the right thing to do” to my son since he was born. It is challenging at times… Teenagers often think they’re smarter than their parents and prefer not to listen to them… The title of Bruce’s book, “Is It Still Cheating if I Don’t Get Caught?”, definitively caught my attention. 🙂

  4. Kim Colestock Everhart says:

    Thank you so very much for this very open dialogue about ethics, integrity, and ethical intelligence. I think the more we talk and hear about appropriate thoughts and behaviors, the more goodness we will see.
    As always Bruce, I admire you and the work that you do!

  5. K Garrett says:

    I really appreciate this message and enjoyed listening to this podcast. I’m looking forward to learning more from the expanded version, Leading with Ethical Intelligence. The podcast was informative and entertaining, and listening to Mr. Yates and Mr. Weinstein discussion was like listening in on two friends having a meaningful conversation. I really appreciate all five principles, especially the reminder to care (love). I find in business and personal relationships that caring is, as you say, “the WD40 of relationships”. I am not the greatest PM, but my stakeholders think I am, because they know how much I honestly care and try to make things better for them and our company. Thanks again for this message.

  6. Megan says:

    I absolutely love the opening line: What should I do and who should I be. As Project Managers, we need to be leaders. While we can watch what others do in similar situations, we need to do the right thing. Also, there’s good advice in the podcast of taking a time out. Walk away. Take deep breaths. Maybe there’s a Project Management support group to vent the issues.

  7. Debbie says:

    Excellent podcast! I particularly liked this topic. Thank you!

  8. Sri Salagrama says:

    Enjoyed this podcast. Thank you!!

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