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“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do, and what is right to do.” Potter Stewart.

Something that really irked me towards the end of my career was the sense that the game had changed. When I started in the police force we were instilled with an ethic I could best describe as hard but fair. We weren’t there to go around forcing our will on people, except to the degree that a situation warranted the use of our statutorily-sourced powers. Those powers, provided to us by Parliament, were designed to allow us to maintain order and the free movement of traffic – and to investigate crime in a fashion that enabled objective assessment of evidence. One way of doing the latter, amongst others, was to seek and execute search warrants where we had reasonable grounds to believe evidence was at a specified location, if we believed that asking nicely to come in, or giving notice of a visit, would likely result in that evidence going ‘walkies’. It was a power designed to do two things – if it was there, we found it and used. If it didn’t exist, we couldn’t. In essence, the power and its execution allowed an objective assessment of the suspect’s guilt. But if we told them we were coming and the stuff wasn’t there, we didn’t really know either way.

But towards the end, I was starting to notice that line managers were starting to get soft. Instead of arresting and searching, we would ‘invite the suspect in’ and then search. Giving them time (at least twice in my own experience) to try and hide the evidence. If a decision made by one manager was shown to be wrong, a new manager would be reluctant to change it as it reflected badly on the predecessor and/or the organisation. If I wanted to force a door to execute a warrant, they’d try to stop me.

People who had earlier proved stalwarts of the profession started looking not at what we could do – legally – and started doing something else. They started looking out for themselves, preferring the non-complaint status quo. Suddenly, their work ethic was ‘avoid conflict.’

(Not to mention the senior officers sitting in judgment on colleagues who hadn’t done anything their judges hadn’t done years before. But that’s another issue.)

When you are truly a person of character and competence, as proposed and achieved through execution on the Second Resolution, you know what you can and cannot do, both legally and morally. You adhere to the influence of your conscience on the morality of what you are doing, and the legalities, technicalities, systems and processes are so well known to you that you comply almost without thinking. Particularly when those competencies are tried, tested, proved and effective.

You don’t have to worry about the effect on the organisation, or what people will think of you and of what you did. You know because of your ethics and skills that what you are doing is right, that it will likely bring the desired, objective result, and that no ethical individual or organisation can in any way take you to task. They may try, but they will fail.

That, to me, summarises what is sadly wrong with some senior managers in many organisations. They’ve lost the ability to stand up for what is right in preference for what they think they have a right to do.

A good manager does what is right, in the right way for the right reasons. All three apply. A poor manager, an unethical manager, only has to fail on one of those – wrong thing, wrong way or wrong reason – for the results to be tainted, or to fail.

Interestingly, while simultaneously demanding that all those below them do the former.

Is a puzzlement.


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