Business Transformation

Your Code of Ethics: Sets the Tone at the Top and Reveals Everything

What tone do you set for your organization?

Why do some cities that were once great wander aimlessly and waste away into a state of mere existence? Why do once-great organizations crumble? Why do families that seem to be strong succumb to crisis after crisis? The answer is simple: the wrong tone at the top leads to a lack of quality performance and wreaks havoc on everything you’ve fought to build.

Whether in politics, the military, business, or family, the tone set by the organization’s leader sets the atmosphere of conduct, the culture of expectation, and the environment for efficiency or lack thereof. For many, a sense of aimlessness seems to prevail, as some leaders continue to be void of self-respect, decency, or internal fortitude. Similar to Alexander Hamilton’s famous quote,” If a leader stands for nothing, the masses will surely fall for everything!”

The “Tone at the Top” is communicated by every action, behavior, comment, word selection and expression, defensiveness, posture, dress, acceptance, non-acceptance, and emotional display of leadership within an organization. In turn, it sets the tone by which all other individual’s actions are measured, tolerated, and expected.

Often, leaders fall into the trap of defending what they think they know rather than investing that same amount of time discovering what they do not know. This unwillingness to grow sets the organizational tone… and not in a good way!

It takes the leadership of others and true leadership of self to set the tone for an organization. Unfortunately, in many instances, the tone is never even set because there is no real leader, just employees that have evolved upward. Other times, the tone is not set because performance is impeded due to:

  1. Individuals who wait to see what the daily opinion polls indicate as the popular path, regardless of whether it is the critical path. This is not true leadership but mere management.
  2. Individuals that live a life prescribed to them by others, squandering their greatness. As a result, they never blossom and fail to bless others with their inherent abilities. This is not true leadership but mere management.
  3. Many individuals rationalize away decency. It is not important whether their actions are ethical as long as they are legal. This is not leadership but mere management.
  4. Individuals that live in a bubble, emulating someone else’s life, instead of recognizing there is no longer a bubble (glass) or ceiling, except that which is self-imposed. This is not leadership but mere management.
  5. Individuals that maintain a sense of complacency by limiting problem-solving tones in their life and demanding that their misery be shared by all. This is not leadership but mere management.
  6. Individuals that continue to live a life defined by limits instead of recognizing that they could change their tone and live a life of abundance. This is not leadership but mere management.

There are seven deadly sins of leadership, management, and even “followership” that research has revealed. When mishandled, these “sins” can set the tone of an organization and prevent growth from occurring and greatness from being achieved. First detailed in 2000 in “COACHING FOR IMPACT: Generational Connectivity” by my colleague Dr. Jay Kent-Ferraro and myself, recent years have provided alarming examples that these findings are more accurate today than we could have possibly predicted!

While falling prey to these sins can be fatal to your leadership, living by their antidotes as Codes can set a tone of excellence:

  1. Competence… better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. Feeling compelled to dominate conversation and decision loops when one has the weakest resume in the room on a given topic is a sin. In far too many instances, we see the blind leading the blind and causing incompetence.
    Antidote – Be open to continued education and strive to increase your proficiency constantly. This sets a positive tone for your organization.
  2. Accountability… do as I say and not as I do. We have sown seeds of “excuseability,” communicating a tone of “you can’t hold me accountable.” In childhood, we see this as “I will tell my mommy-syndrome.” In adulthood, it often appears as, “I will sue!”
    Antidote – Be willing to hold yourself, your team, and your organization accountable and set the right tone.
  3. Integrity… that inner morality that guides your actions when there is no one around to observe, also known as a personal Code of Ethics. We see far too many double standards defining integrity which creates confusion.
    Antidote – Follow a sound moral, professional, and personal GPS to set the proper tone or your team.
  4. Professional Responsibility and Duty… to do what is known to be right, regardless of self-promotion, gain, or popularity. We have created an expectation of maximum paycheck for minimal effort, and it has placed our society in a grave position. Now, nearly every business and government agency is in fiscal paralysis!
    Antidote – Do what is expected of you to develop a respectable reputation and set an appropriate tone for your organization.
  5. Respect for Rights and Personal Dignity… also known as the Golden Rule. In a world where political correctness abounds, the tough love that many need has become unfashionable if not downright forbidden. As a result, the tones of civility have been deafened!
    Antidote – Learn how to be civil among others while still providing the feedback necessary to inspire change. This sets a tone for growth while not allowing excuses to prevail.
  6. Commitment to the Other Person… standing by others when times get tough has seemingly disappeared. Unfortunately, we often see that when times get tough, people abandon one another immediately to save their own hide. Many people say that they care for others, yet few offer a helping hand. This says a lot about someone’s tone!
    Antidote – Set the tone in your organization by doing what you know to be correct, moral, and fair, even (and especially) in the face of difficult circumstances.
  7. Social Responsibility… a mindset of “this is not my back yard, so why should I care?” has become systemic. The ground we live and walk upon can be thought of as the tonal face of the planet, yet it is dumped upon regularly!
    Antidote – Show concern for our planet, its creatures, and your fellow humans. When you set a tone of social responsibility, others are bound to follow.

A dangerous philosophy of sabotage is becoming more and more prevalent in our society, that to “win,” someone else must “lose.” But, it doesn’t have to be this way. When a person changes their tone, they instantly change their destination. It’s time to examine how others truly see you. It’s time to evaluate your tone.

Your tone becomes your destination, so set yours wisely.


Written by Dr. Jeffrey Magee.

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Dr. Jeffrey Magee
C-Suite and Military General clients come to Dr. Jeffrey Magee for ENTERPRISE-WIDE Talent Development & Human Capital succession architecture. The need today to collapse down years/months/weeks into days is critical! Sustainable Solutions NOW. Jeffrey Magee, PhD/CBE/CMC/CSP/PDM is the “Thought Leaders Leader.” Jeffrey is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Professional Performance Magazine, editor of the LEADERSHIP MASTERY and SALES MASTERY blogs, a former nationally syndicated Radio Talk Show Host, as well as a publisher author of 31 books, translated into 21-languages, to include 4-Best Sellers (YOUR TRAJECTORY CODE/WILEY)) and 4 graduate management text books (THE MANAGERIAL-LEADERSHIP BIBLE/PEARSON EDUCATION). He is a leadership columnist, and highly sought global professional speaker on performance psychology.

The recipient of the United States Junior Chamber’s TEN OUTSTANDING YOUNG AMERICANS (TOYA) Award, and the United States National GUARD’s Total Team VICTORY Medal for civilian contribution to the Armed Services. Massive hyper GROWTH & PROFITABILITY is the resume of 100% of our 2020 clients - Business Growth & Leadership Development: Working with Organizations at the C-Suite level to protect & leverage their most valuable asset - their PEOPLE!


Dr. Jeffrey Magee is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.