Published on 2012/04/20

Modeling Integrity: Leading Character And Human Resources Development Strategy

Modeling Integrity: Leading Character And Human Resources Development Strategy
Even as adults, humans continue to learn and model behaviors by what they see around them. It’s important to make character development a part of higher education curricula to ensure that learners stay positive and morally-centered. Photo by Joe Gatling.

As children we learn primarily from the behaviors we see modeled around us. This does not end as we become adults. Not every behavior displayed was consistent for every space or for every circumstance and for the most part we were presented with alternative behaviors as we attended primary school. In today’s fast paced society if character is taught at home or in the classroom, there are so many avenues to contradict ones moral compass. Since we live in a “fad-based” society it is easy to adopt behavior or mannerisms that are inappropriate for any space or any circumstances. In many instances, the behaviors adopted tend to drive us to make decisions that sometimes have enormous negative consequences personally and collectively. It is never easy for one to take an unpopular path, but if the path is an ethically sound path, then persons ought to be primed to take that path regardless of the consequences whether through formal education, modeling behavior and changes in policy and accountability systems. Lifelong learning can help us control, shape and define our character growth in a positive way.

Many of us by the very nature of our work and other life activities have immense influence on the lives of those who come to us for services, those who watch us on television or those we represent in government. In this time of uncertainty, many of us have even more influence on the lives of others by the way we behave or the choices we make to behave differently in our classroom, boardroom, halls of justice, businesses, governmental roles, non-profits, parliament-house-senate and other entities. By our positions, many of us model behavior that will be emulated by others in their respective roles in society, but not all these behaviors are consistent with sound ethical behavior. A list of some of these behaviors follows:

  • Disagreement. When politicians block meaningful legislations because its lacks a provision they favor them or there is nothing in the legislation for their constituency, they model to us how to disagree in our families, worklife and in our community life.
  • Stalling meaningful progress. A government officer or politician who makes a decision to withhold government services from a non-constituent member or expects a bribe for service, teaches citizens, not only how to be corrupt, but how behave in public office, but how to stall meaningful progress in communities and in nation.
  • Self vs. collective. When a public official or an organization’s executive uses public or organizational funds to cover non-business expenses, they communicate to stakeholders how to steal from those they are being paid to represent or serve and how to emphasize the self above the collective.
  • Handling agreement. When a faculty member chooses to manipulate a student’s grade because they have divergent points of views, students learn how to handle disagreements that way.
  • Biased employment practices. The same is true, when employers choose to circumvent the hiring, promotion, or reward systems to favor a friend, a preferred associate, someone that looks like them, sounds similar, or have had similar life experiences, they teach those who will one day take their places how to behave in that role and they promote a culture of inequalities, nepotism and mistrust.
  • Unforgiveness and division. When persons of influence choose not to speak to another or engage in scholarly or other activities with a colleague because of some misgiving or divergent professional opinions, those persons introduces unforgiveness and division in the hearts and minds of those they supervises and students which can spill over into other aspects of students life, include their work life.
  • Water-down informed consent. Research and engaged scholarship are important activities to better understand and develop individuals, communities, organizations and nations, by the rules of engagement must be consistent regardless of if it is a local or an international study or whether it is a developed or in an lesser developed nation. It follows that if the informed consent procedures are watered-down or signatures are gathers without proper explanations, or services are withheld for failure to provide a signature because of lack of understanding in a developing or lesser developed country these actions show that nation how to exploit its citizens.
  • Deceptive advertisement. Colleges and universities who advertise one thing to prospective students and present them with a different reality when they arrive on campus, teaches those students important lessons about trust and in some ways introduce students to deceptive and other alternative ways of behaving in their professional lives.
  • Injustice. Persons who are excluded from activities or the chance to take advantage of developmental or advancement opportunities because of their ethnic origins, their chosen biological assignments or affiliations, native language, national origin are taught how to distrust and resist a system because of its overt and less overt inequities. A healthcare provider who refuses to care for a patient because they don’t like the insurance the person carries or the person don’t have insurance, or the person is from an under-represented group that healthcare provider teaches the patient how unjust our healthcare system is.
  • Mistrust. When police officers short-circuit a process or contaminate a system designed to protect and serve, they breed mistrust between themselves and those they are paid to serve and protect.
  • Bigotry and hate. Persons who choose to use derogatory comments to describe person different than themselves with colleagues or friends thinking that it is acceptable to do so promotes bigotry and hate.

All these persons advancing such inconsistent behaviors are in positions of influence and they are modeling subtle messages that become overt behaviors in colleges and universities, in the workplace, in the boardroom, in communities, in families and in the broader society with enormous implications for tax payers, life-long learners, organizational counselors, I-O psychologist, educators, communities, nations,  and policymakers. All the behaviors noted reflects compromised character traits which if left unimpeded can fuel all kind of behaviors that can stall any individual, any organization, any community, or any nation’s progress.

Character is another term used for having ethical fortitude. Choosing to behave ethically is a choice despite what is seen, heard or modeled but colleges and university; workplace professionals and other life-long educators must be intentional in infusing every curriculum with character development content if persons are to have more ethical choices from which to choose. Therefore, character development is one of the most potent human resource development strategies for a time where change is a constant, information is immediate, leaders aren’t leading and less following is happening. What we have is a very chaotic present moment, but if we do nothing to change our present state, the future will be just the same. No change means that workers will continue to fight with management, union-management relationships will continue to be contentious; more and more inequities will occur unfettered, stalled businesses, colleges, universities and other organizational advancement will persist; gross mistrust will peak; students will behave unethical during their tenure at the college and universities and this behavior will spill over into their families, communities, in their worklife and the broader society.

Modeled behavior tells a story about a person’s socialization. Since an educational establishment is one of the formidable institutions engaged in the socialization process, it is important that these institutions take the lead in shaping the discourse about making character development a part of normal course of the everyday teaching and learning process and that character development be seen as an important human resources development strategy. Students graduating with a checkered character add no value to the development of a family, community, organization or a nation. Instead, they are primed to seek their own self-interest and will do about anything for self-advancement at the expense of the collective by engaging in unsavory behavior. Self-advancement is not the issue, as a matter fact failure to improve oneself might be construed as unethical since taxpayers may have to pay the bill in meeting the needs of someone who fail to take advantages of opportunities provided to improve themselves and their families. The real issue is that the pathway a person takes that makes normal human decency unimportant and undermines every process and system to achieve their individual goals. The global financial crisis is a by-product of this kind of behavior and what we should all strive for is to prevent a repeat of this crisis by being intentional in structuring education programs and the teaching and learning processes to correct this kind of behavior. Students’ preparedness must reflect a value system that produces outcomes that promote the greater good of organizations, communities, their respective nations and the global community to which we have all become a part.

Character development is supposed to take place in childhood, but learning does not cease once one becomes an adult. Instead, more concrete learning takes place in adulthood suggesting that life-long learning is a deeply-entrenched characteristic in human beings. Some may argue differently, but we learn to adhere to changes in laws, adjust to price changes, obey alterations in road signs, adhere to changes in hours of business, we adopt the mannerism of a television character or a neighbor and we learn from the behavior of those we admire and from the behaviors of those we see regularly.

All these are examples of new learning, so it follows that if learning is that pervasive, then character development can be that pervasive too and should become part of every higher educational institution curriculum. It really does not matter the discipline, every learners will be expose to difficult decisions they must make and it is fitting that they have a broad enough knowledge-base from which to assess their options and choose and hopefully they will make an ethical choice.

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Readers Comments

Karen 2012/04/19 at 3:00 pm

There’s lots of thought provoking material here. One of the courses I teach is business ethics, and the modeling of behavior and the life-long development of character often come up in discussions, but perhaps using different terms. Dealing with a diverse population means that we cannot assume that character development, positive and ethical in nature, happens during childhood. Adult students come to higher education with morals (good or bad) from their family of origin and a whole host of attitudes developed over time as they’ve moved through life. The ethical path is not always popular and by the time a student is in the middle of their college education some serious mistakes may have already been made.
Not only do we have the modeling of poor ethical choices all around us, and this is really nothing new on earth, we have the rewards that seem to go along with these behaviors. One can become famous now, on TV or Youtube, by doing things that only a generation ago would have garnered punishment and social rejection. For example, public drunkenness is celebrated on reality television shows. Behaviors that would have caused shame and remorse at one time now lead to “15 minutes of fame” and paying contracts. It’s much the same with many of the negative behaviors you outline, especially for politicians and public servants, the rewards are there…so the bad behavior continues. Leaders who are rude and unable to engage in civil debate or compromise get re-elected (rewarded) so there’s little motivation for them to take the harder and more ethical path.
I think you’ve touched upon a lot of important issues. This short article is an excellent justification for why we need to incorporate some type of ethics class into almost all degrees, certificates or programs.

E. A. Harewood 2012/04/20 at 11:52 am

Karen:

Thank you for your insightful comments. It is clear that learning is everywhere, but learners must learn or be taught how to differentiate what appropriate learning and what’s not by what not from the behavior model to them.

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