After the Webinar: The Connection between Personal and Organizational Ethics. Q&A with Al Cobos

Webinar presenter Al Cobos answered a number of your questions after his presentation, The Connection between Personal and Organizational Ethics.  Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: What is the difference between an unethical and a bad decision? 

Al Cobos: I think when it comes to a bad or poor decision, it can be more along the lines of violating a particular policy. It may be a violation of policy where there’s really no external ill will, either policy or procedure, a decision that “Hey, I made a bad decision. But my intent behind the decision was not to violate any of the normative ethics from intentionally trying to do ill will,” And that ill will could be trying to hide something, hurt someone, you know, trying to retain some information, so no one can find out about it. So, I think the evaluation between a bad decision and the unethical decision goes to intent. Was it a just a decision where there was no ill intent or was a decision willful and there was an intent to deceive, hide, hurt, harm? I think that’s probably one of the easier ways to take a look at it.



Audience Question: Al, you mentioned several books in your presentation today, one was from Gallup. And then there was another one about, you talked about how it, it recommends that you disconnect from technology. What was the name of those two books again? 

Al Cobos: It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter from the Gallup organization. And the other one is Ethical Intelligence.

Host: Folks, I’ll add links to the recording page for that. For those two books I know several of you were pinging me about the book, Ethical Intelligence.



Audience Question: What’s the role of licensing boards in helping to establish and set expectations and direction? 

Al Cobos: Um, have to know a little bit more about the particular licensing board itself. I’m assuming it’s for Public Service Entity. Licensing Boards, from my understanding, and I haven’t been a part of one. There are certain parameters that have to be met, whether it’s for an organization, or licensing of individual people and there are certain parameters, whether it’s a degree, some type of a certificate, experience. I would liken those to be, you know, kind of the minimum standards. So, I think that’s the portion or the role of a Licensing Board. But in terms of ethics, those are not as quantifiable. And I think in terms of getting ethical expectations across for licensing boards, there’s a little bit more room for interpretation, and I’m not sure if they shy away from that because of that or simply should embrace to really codify ethical expectations. I’m not sure if that answers the question, but if there’s a follow-up, I’m more than willing to answer it.



Audience Question: I think this is a common question that I think a lot of people struggle with. What’s the difference between ethics and the law? 

Al Cobos: Let’s start with the law. You can have things that we’re duty-bound to do because, let’s say, a state law, one of the examples that I use in my ethics class is Penn State. Know, Penn State had a sex abuse scandal a number years back, Penn State is a huge football town. Giant football program. Their mantra, their motto was ‘Success with honor.’ They’re known for practicing and preaching ethics, never had a cheating scandal. But when it came to the scandal itself, there were a couple of people, there was an assistant coach, there was a head coach that found out about the sex abuse incident. And I guess the best way to explain the difference between ethics and the law is, the coach, and the assistant coach, at that time in that state, they were not mandated reporters, so they did not have to report it to law enforcement at the time. I believe the law has been changed since. So, in that instance and, you know, the head coach was losing his job, so is the assistant coach. Pedophile went to jail, but the Assistant Coach and the head coach. They were adamant, “Hey, we did what we’re supposed to do per the law,” because they weren’t a mandated reporter. They told their bosses, but, from an ethical standpoint, they’re commonly viewed as, “Hey, they should have gone to the police irrespective of what the law stated.” So, you know, that’s kind of a clear distinction, and one of the questions I asked early on, you know, Can you do something that is 100% legal? but it can be 100% unethical? And I think with the situation that many of us deal with, you know, we can fall into. Hey, this is legal, but we also have to look at, the considerations of, is this ethical? And we start to take a look at the different considerations that we just talked about which was presented in the webinar. You know, am I trying to do good? Is there a do no harm clause? And am I injuring somebody because of the actions or the decision being made?  So, I think it’s a little safer to follow the law in terms of perception. Because it’s, it’s an either-or you’re either violating the policy or not. With ethics, though, it’s a societal judgment call. And for the most part, we look at things relatively similar. And while you may take comfort that, or a person may take comfort that, I’m good with this decision, it’s within the policy, it’s legal, but it may be very unethical. So, I think that’s, that’s a key difference. You can do something that’s 100% ethical, but it violates policy or violates a law, and you could still be held responsible for it. So, it can go either way, but those are some key differences between the two.



Audience Question: Do you have any recommendations for some good books on ethics? And I know, certainly, Ethical Intelligence was one. Do you have some other recommendations for books? And if I need to follow up with you afterward, that’s great, but if you are, if you have a couple that are handy, that’d be fantastic. 

Al Cobos: I’m a book nerd. I am looking off the right, because I’ve got, I’ve got an ethics book over there that it’s, it’s called Organizational Ethics: Fourth Edition. The author is Johnson. And it gets into organizational practices, ethics within the organization itself. So, it’s a good starting point. It’s not general ethics, but more for kind of what we’re here for, public service, private sector organizations. And again, you know, go to the title of the webinar, you know, the connection between the organization itself, and the employees. You know, what that relationship is, and how ethical practices kind of influence each other, back and forth.



Audience Question: Would ethical behavior also include how we work with and treat inside and outside customers. And since we’re public servants our positions would incorporate both, how we treat our inside customers, so in other words, other employees within our agency, as well as the public we serve, does it, does do ethics kind of apply to both equally? 

Al Cobos: I think they’re one and the same. I think the, it gets back to the polling question. If we treat our people ethically. It’s easier for people to treat the public ethically. I’ve been fortunate of doing training nationwide, talked to a number different leaders throughout the nation, and I didn’t speak to this person directly, another person who told me about this, where there was an expectation that we want our people to treat the public in an ethical customer service friendly type of manner, and, you know, there’s a number of processes that are in place to accomplish that, but it has to be practiced internally. And the comment was, “I don’t care what we do internally, I just want my people to do that, with the public,” And it’s that disconnect that breeds resentment and it can breed unethical practices in decision making. So, I think they have, they support each other, and if we want our people to conduct themselves in the right way, ethically, we have to do it internally. I think it’s a representation of who we are as an organization. This is how we do business. This is how we conduct ourselves. And there’s an expectation that you conduct yourself in the same manner when dealing with the public. So, I think there’s a congruence between the two if it’s practiced internally and externally. You’re going to have problems. If you just want to say, go ahead, and practice these values, these ethics, these type of decision-making practices with the public. But, internally, we’re going to do something different. And, again, our people know that there’s a disconnect between those two different practices. So, they have to support each other. They’ve got to be practiced internally and externally.



Audience Question: How did the movie end? What did the group do in the movie? Did they kill the sheepherders? Did they kill them, tie them, let them go, what they do? 

Al Cobos: You’d have to see the movie. They let them go, there was an intense firefight, Marcus Lutrell was one of the SEALs, he’s the only one who survived. And you know that the movie itself is an extended firefight between the enemy combatants and SEAL team members. One of the interesting points which I mentioned in my other class because we have more time that, Marcus Lutrell has actually taken in by an Afghani Tribe. And the Taliban actually went to their tribes and hey, we know you have an American soldier. You need to give him to us. And I forget the warrior’s code that the tribe was adhering to that had Marcus Lutrell. And per their code, if a warrior falls within your custody, you have to take care of them, they actually stood up to the Taliban. Holy knowing that there are probably going to suffer some severe consequences. So, you know, per their code, for their ethics, they protected this American SEAL to their own detriment, which kind of relates back to the original decision of not killing anyone. Holding themselves to that code. And in the movie itself, there’s some discussion. There were some seals that we need to. We need to kill these goat herders, but ultimately the decision was made not to kill them. So, it’s, there is a layered ethical dilemma at a number of different levels. It’s a, it’s a long firefight of a movie, but there are some huge ethical considerations that are in there.



Audience Question: And the last question of the day, we have several people who are asking about the challenges that are facing organizations today in light of some of these very public incidents. What do you recommend for healing the rifts between communities and law enforcement in which the ethics of law enforcement might be being perceived poorly even though that’s not true of so many of our officers? How do you start the healing process? 

Al Cobos: Well, I think we’ve got to talk about it, and, you know, one of the webinars for next year, Motivational Conversation: Building Bridges with Different Communities. The vast majority of police officers, public servants, we do a good job, and there’s a narrative out there that we have to acknowledge exists. One of the key things that I speak with my people internally, and I’ll use law enforcement example because that’s my profession. When we make a mistake, we have to own it. You know, we have to be able to say, this was a mistake. These are the appropriate consequences that come about from these actions. But we also have to vehemently defend the good actions that, that we do take. But in order to make the relationship better between law enforcement, the government in general, because not just law enforcement, it’s city governments. The state government, county governments. You know, there’s scrutiny for everyone in public service. But we’ve got to be able to talk to people, and by asking questions that, basically, your intent for asking the question is, to create a dialog. Create a conversation, and then that conversation leads you down a path towards building a relationship. And just like with ethical practices, it’s not just a one and done type of thing. It’s a day-to-day aspect of what we do. And being in public service, we have to reach out to a number of different communities. I would argue all of them, even the ones that may not like us. Because, eventually, we’re going to have to talk to one another and build those bridges, but it’s going to take some time. But the effort has to be put on where the expectation is. And that’s with us as the public service agencies. So, it’s going to start with us, building those communication bridges. It’s not easy, but it’s something that we have to do.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of The Connection between Personal and Organizational Ethics.


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