In today’s business world—where corporate leadership and integrity are under a big new microscope given illegal actions and financial shenanigans—there’s no better time for executives to scrutinize professional actions and behaviors. And that group includes IT managers and other tech leaders.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are you a manager who values talented people?
  • Are you a leader who is committed to the growth of your organization?
  • And, if those same questions are posed to your staff, what response will they give?

It’s likely the majority of IT leaders will give a resounding yes to the first two questions and expect their staff to echo their answers. Yet taking a deeper and closer look at day-to-day decisions could reveal some ethical and professional kinks that require some ironing out. Conducting a regular ”ethical” review is needed because an IT manager’s job is not filled with easy tasks and decisions.

“Management is not easy,” said Lisa Taylor Huff, a career coach with an 18-year IT background. “You’re making minute-by-minute judgment calls all day long. You have to be straightforward and often do the difficult thing if you really want to attract and retain talent in your organization.”

Sacrificing for the good of the company
One of the best ways to evaluate your ethics level is to envision yourself dealing with an actual dilemma. Try this one: You realize that a simple restructure could save your company hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, but it would eliminate your job at the same time. Do you advance the idea or even tell anyone? One TechRepublic member, a DOD supervisor, faced exactly that decision and made the right ethical decision for his company.

The member, who requested anonymity, serves as a supervisor for a department that provides desktop support, information security support, information technology contractor coordination, and supplies/training/ budget/plant property tracking support. His proposal to upper management detailed how the unique functions his team currently provides could either be continued through a smaller, centralized IT organization or transferred to other remaining business units that provide similar functions.

“In neither case have I made an attempt to ‘find a home’ for myself as I believe the remaining numbers of employees may not provide enough supervisor slots in a centralized scheme, and distributing my people and their functions would automatically preclude my position,” he related in explaining his ethical dilemma and decision. He fully anticipates that his current position will be eliminated after the restructure.

While anyone would be concerned about losing a job, the tech supervisor believed the benefit to the company was more important and that his proposal was exactly what his employer expected from him.

“I felt it was my duty to provide viable recommendations for future support of my organization’s functions—whether or not I end up being a part of that organization,” he explained. His loyalty, added the supervisor, is first to the organization, next to his employees, and only then to himself.

“I know that many people reverse this order, but I hope that my way is ultimately recognized as the more honorable order,” he wrote.

Putting yourself second—or third
In a shaky economy where IT jobs are scarce, it’s tempting to brush this member off as a lone lunatic and goody two shoes—after all, you have a mortgage to pay and kids to feed. But that isn’t the road to take, say career experts, because what’s good for the company is very likely good for you and your career in the long run.

“With discussion about corporate ethics so prevalent today, people are paying more attention to how management behaves,” said Huff. “If you’re doing something wrong, you’re likely to get caught. It isn’t always about ethics—it’s your personal integrity: Do your actions mirror what you say you stand for?”

In other words, you can’t get up and tell your shareholders that the company’s “human capital” is your most valuable resource and then turn around and take full credit for the six straight Sundays your staffers gave up to get that next release out a week early.

When member Richard F. Tompkins was IT director at Hyundai Motor America prior to the company’s incorporation, he supervised a staff of 14 and made a consistent effort to support a team approach. He saw firsthand how a strong professional ethic can pay off.

“I made it a point to give lots of credit to the staffs of the other seven directors who had cooperated in the implementation of pilot systems to get us off the ground,” he related. In fact, he hung a sign above his desk that read, “It is amazing how much can get done if we don’t worry about who gets the credit.”

The strategy worked: Nine months later, the company implemented systems for dealers, banks, import, and distribution with paperless systems exceeding every other automobile importer in the country.

“If you approach each situation seeking a win-win resolution and balancing the needs of everyone involved, instead of focusing on a win-lose strategy that concerns only your own needs, you’ll generally find that you’re able to make decisions and take actions that will be of greater benefit to everyone involved,” said Huff.

According to Huff, the best IT managers back up their mission statements by helping employees share in the glory. “Think about it: What’s your motivation to work for someone who never gives you any credit and always finds someone to take the fall?” added Huff.

Member Norm Martinez recalls an IT task force he joined to help create greater international business opportunities in his area. Plagued by inside fighting and indecision, the task force met monthly for two years without accomplishing a thing prior to Martinez’s arrival. Under his direction, real steps were finally taken toward realizing the goal of hosting an international conference.

Family circumstances forced him to leave another task force member in charge while he was briefly out of town. In that one meeting he missed, executive decisions were made that removed him from the entire planning process. The conference was scaled back to a regional level, and Martinez was informed that he would no longer be compensated for work he had done to that point.

“I felt sorely compelled to enforce my contract through litigation,” he wrote. “However, this would halt all momentum for the event, creating a lose-lose-lose situation for the IT business community, the team, and myself—even if I prevailed. So I put my personal feelings aside and even pitched in voluntarily during the weeks prior to the event.”

The Gulf Coast Technology Summit Martinez envisioned is now in its third year. He calls it “a feather in my cap that no one gives me credit for.” His experience taught him a great truth, he said. “Pioneers are often tossed aside once an idea takes hold. I’ve reluctantly learned to accept it for the greater good and economic development of my community.”

Doing good brings good things
Most people in IT likely aren’t in it for the glory, and that’s a good footing for career success.

If IT managers give staff members the tools they need to succeed, their positive achievements will always reflect well on the manager. More important, if you act with integrity, your every action will automatically benefit the company—and, ultimately your career.

As Enron VP Sherron Watkins noted during her testimony time, being known as a professional whistle blower can hinder immediate job prospects. Yet, at the end of the day, would you rather be known as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2002 or the guy who stole millions and ruined thousands of lives?