The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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My Boss Lacks Integrity

The "Bad Boss" Epidemic:
Part IV of IV

When Your Boss Lacks Integrity

Shouldn't you be able to trust your boss
to do the right thing? Is that asking too much?

Given the chance, we'd all undoubtedly choose a boss who's honest, respectable, and admirable over the alternative - a boss who lacks integrity. Unfortunately we don't always get to choose our bosses. Even when we do, we generally don't know enough to gauge the individual's level of integrity or decency in the workplace.

Sometimes a lack of integrity in leadership is obvious. We see egregious examples of corporate corruption and deceit play out in the media all the time. We're all shocked and disturbed at the magnitude of these offenses. It's my belief, though, that subtle demonstrations of cracks in the armor of integrity are the most disturbing. The quiet manipulations and disappointments that occur in the workplace every day are, in many ways, more insidious. These actions also generally have a greater impact on us as individuals.

When a leader demonstrates a lack of integrity in the workplace, it's easy to be disappointed or even disgusted by what you see. The good news? If your boss doesn't demonstrate integrity, you don't have to just accept it and suffer in silence. You can "help" your boss demonstrate integrity, even if he or she isn't particularly inclined to act with integrity in the general sense. This is because what matters most is the integrity present in your relationship, more than the integrity that either of you possess individually. Not buying it? Try to reserve judgment, and read through to the end. With this article, we'll focus on two common challenges in the workplace, and how you can help influence the integrity of your boss in each area.
What do you do if your boss doesn't honor commitments, and keep his or her word? When things are unfair, or discrimination rears its ugly head, how do you respond? 
What Makes Your Boss Bad?

As I kicked off this series, I identified four challenges you may have with your boss:
Competence: Does your boss have the right knowledge and perspective to lead the team?  Does he or she have the right skills and competencies? Does your boss have good judgment and the ability to make sound decisions?
Likability:  Do you like your boss's personality; do you get along? Does your boss have an ego that gets in the way of your relationship? Is your boss respectful and sensitive to you and your colleagues?
Approach:  Does your boss's management style work well for you? Does he or she communicate with the transparency, frequency, relevance, and style that you prefer? Does your boss accept accountability, or blame, bully and sabotage others?
Integrity:  Is your boss honest and does he or she honor commitments? Is your boss fair in the treatment of employees? Does your boss discriminate? 
Most people who struggle with a perceived "bad" boss have concerns in one or more of these four areas. The last three articles addressed what to do when you believe your boss is incompetent and how to work well with a boss you dislike and adapting when your boss's style is wrong for you. This week, we're focused on Part IV: Integrity.

My Boss Lacks Integrity

I've written on integrity before, and how challenging it is when you draw the line differently than someone else in the workplace. (Click here to read that article.) It's particularly challenging when it's your boss. There's no universal answer as to what you should be able to expect from a boss with regard to integrity. What matters most is how you align with your boss on views of what's right and wrong, and how well you navigate your differences in opinion.

If your boss isn't naturally inclined to act with integrity, you may have to take responsibility for establishing integrity in your relationship. You can't change your boss's integrity at the core (at least not easily), but you can influence the integrity of your interactions. It sounds hard, and sometimes it is. But small investments can pay big dividends over time, making it well worth the effort.

Let's talk about two common challenges in the workplace, and how you can strengthen the presence of integrity in your relationship with your boss.

a. My boss doesn't honor commitments. I don't trust him or her.

One of the greatest disappointments you’ll likely face in the workplace is learning that your boss hasn’t kept a commitment to you. When your boss doesn’t honor his or her word, you can't help but feel disappointed or even angry. Most of the time, the commitments you discuss with your boss are things only they have the power to do for you. You're captive to their integrity, in a sense.

If your boss disappoints you in this way, it’s likely that one of three situations is at play. First, it may be that organizational dysfunction prevents your boss from keeping commitments. Second, your boss may lack the competency to get things done in your organization. Or third, it may be that your boss is demonstrating a true lack of integrity. In all cases, even those involving integrity, you can help your boss do better.

What to do:

Know exactly what you’re dealing with. Observe your boss’s behavior relative to commitments. Determine whether organizational dysfunction, a lack of competency, or a lack of integrity is at the crux of the problem. In all cases, invest the time needed to ensure your boss wants to keep his or her commitments, and that he or she is prepared to keep commitments. Whenever possible, ask for commitments in writing. When an important commitment is broken, be respectful, but ask questions, before you assume that all is lost.
Accept Organizational Dysfunction
At times, your boss fails you because he or she has no choice. Leaders sometimes find that their hands are tied, and they don't have the leeway they thought they had, to follow through on commitments. Try to forgive these circumstances, and work with your boss to find viable alternatives, particularly if this is an infrequent occurrence.
Support Lack of Competency
If your boss is ineffective at keeping commitments due to a deficiency of skill, you need to help. Maybe your boss presents information poorly, or listens inadequately. He or she may not be equipped to handle objections or negotiate on your behalf with others. Incompetence may prevent your boss from representing your position well in front of key decision makers. Or maybe your boss just isn't attuned to the corporate decision-making culture, process, or pace-of-play.
If you sense that your boss wants to keep commitments, but doesn’t have success in doing so, provide support. Prepare your boss, even if you believe you shouldn't have to. You may need to document what’s being requested, and the importance of the request. You may need to highlight the implications if a commitment isn't met. For things that matter, do the work. Make it easy for your boss to do your bidding. Help your boss keep commitments to you. The benefits generally far outweigh the effort.
Address Lack of Integrity 
When your boss successfully implements decisions, changes, and plans in the organization on a regular basis, he or she likely doesn't lack competence. In this case, if your boss says that he or she wants to keep a commitment, but doesn't keep it, you're likely dealing with a lack of integrity.
You'll know this is the case when you see a pattern of behavior that suggests your boss will make and break commitments readily, when he or she clearly has the positional authority or influence to do otherwise.  
Most of the time, commitments that are broken by bosses who lack integrity are about avoiding conflict. Your boss may agree or commit to things while in discussion with you, to pacify you, knowing full well that he or she has no intention of keeping the commitment. Or maybe your boss plans to make an attempt, but doesn’t intend to push hard on your behalf to keep the commitment. He or she may just be buying time to evaluate other options. 
This behavior is fairly reprehensible in that it wastes time, it creates unnecessary disappointment when expectations aren’t met, and it creates an environment of distrust. The biggest telltale sign of this behavior is generally disagreement or disinterest by your boss during a discussion, followed shortly thereafter by passive or reluctant agreement. It feels like a win, but it isn’t. It’s a deferment. Watch for this pattern.
The pattern generally presents itself when your boss doesn’t find your request particularly important to his or her own interests. This is where you need to take responsibility to bring integrity back into your relationship. Your game plan in these situations is to first, ask for commitments only when they matter. Don’t waste your time on anything less. Second, take the time to understand what matters to your boss. And third, align whatever commitment you want fulfilled... with what matters to your boss. If your boss cares, he or she is much more likely to keep a commitment. It's your challenge to make your boss care.
Remember that a boss who lacks integrity is selfish. To ensure commitments made to you are kept, you have to motivate your boss with what peaks his or her interest. Your requests need to be relevant to the boss. Almost everything can be tied back to something that matters, motivating your boss to action. The better you get at this, the stronger your alignment with your boss, and the better your boss will perform for you and show integrity by keeping his or her word.
Follow Through 
Whenever possible, ask for commitments in writing. If you're uncomfortable asking, simply confirm your understanding of a discussion with your boss after a meeting via email, even thanking him or her for the support. Commitments are more likely to be kept when they're documented, with proof of the commit. It's just the way it is. Think of it as a tool to support integrity in action.
Finally, when a commitment is broken, don't just throw up your hands and assume all is lost. Confirm with your boss that you understood the commitment as it was originally made, and then ask very respectfully why the commitment didn't come to fruition. (Your boss likely expects to have to explain it, even though he or she would love to avoid the discussion.) Simply explain that you're trying to understand the change in plan, and that you'd like to talk about alternatives to move forward on a revised commitment. Don't accept random excuses. Press for a new, revised plan or commitment. The more you do this early on, the less you'll have to do it over time. It's a way of training your boss on how to treat you with respect, and it also patterns integrity back into your interactions.
b.  My boss treats me unfairly or discriminates against me.

It's incredibly challenging to find yourself in a situation where you're being treated differently than your co-workers without cause. Trying to understand the reason for the distinction is sometimes the hardest part of all.

Your boss may be unduly harsh in judging your contributions or your performance. He or she may communicate with you in a way that's unfair and inappropriate. Or most damaging of all, your boss may be limiting your potential in the organization by showing favoritism to others, or denying opportunities for advancement that you've earned and deserve. In all cases, you can likely improve your situation with some targeted effort.

What to do:

Try not to take the situation personally, even though it may very well be personal. Emotional detachment helps you productively work to improve the situation. Try to understand what seems to trigger unfair behavior by your boss. Address concerns directly, quickly, and consistently. Assume that your boss doesn't intend to do you harm, even if the behavior seems obviously unfair to you, unless you know otherwise. Don't let a lack of integrity by your boss draw you into behaving without integrity yourself.
Don't Take It Personally 
It's easy for me to say not to take it personally when you're being treated unfairly. In the moment, it's much harder to actually do. That said, the key to improving any situation in the workplace is to avoid emotional sensitivity. The mechanism that works best for me is to remind myself of one thing, repeatedly:  When people single you out for any reason, without cause, (that last part is important), it's generally their issue and not yours. If you can hold on to that thought, in both public and private demonstrations of unfair behavior, you'll be better equipped to remain non-reactive. This is crucial in any unfair circumstance.
Understand The Triggers
Leaders generally treat employees unfairly for one of the following reasons, none of which are acceptable. It may be that your boss simply doesn't care for your personality, or aligns more strongly with others. (Read more here about working with people you dislike or those who dislike you.) It may be that your boss feels threatened, and wants others to believe you aren't as strong a performer as you are. Your boss may want to dominate you, or belittle you, because he or she is insecure. Of course, it may be that your boss doesn't know any better; this is far more common than I'd like to admit. Or it's entirely possible that your boss doesn't perceive that he or she is treating you unfairly.
The best way to gain ground in addressing unfair treatment is to get to the real cause of the behavior. This means you have to observe your boss closely and try to understand specific incidents, interactions, or statements that provide insight as to why you're being treated unfairly. It's helpful to consider the following:
Are you treated unfairly in public settings, during private interactions, or both? Does your boss try to discredit you, to damage perceptions of your competency? Or are comments more personal in nature, about your habits and behaviors? Does unfair treatment only happen in front of your peer group or your boss's peer group, or is it more widespread without regard for the audience? Are you singled out, or are others similarly impacted by unfair treatment? Does the treatment appear to impact one similar group of people based on ethnicity, age, gender, or other consideration? 
Address The Problem Carefully
Unfair treatment rarely dissipates without being addressed directly. In many cases, once you raise a concern to your boss the behavior changes immediately. Whether this change occurs because he or she simply wasn't aware of the behavior, or because of a  fear of repercussion, doesn't really matter. The end result is that the behavior changes. 
The more specific you are in addressing issues, and the faster you address them as they occur, the more successful you'll be in building integrity back into your relationship with your boss. The best approach is to engage your boss without emotion and in a very collaborative, well-intentioned manner. Remember that you're not trying to judge your boss's behavior; you're trying to change it.
First, don't react with emotion or anger in a public setting. Excuse yourself if needed, but try not to react. A quick trip to the restroom can do wonders to gather your thoughts and calm your anger or frustration. Find a few moments alone the same day of the incident, to make some notes for yourself about what specifically you feel is unfair, along with a few examples of the behavior. Consider (to whatever extent you can) only your treatment by the boss vs. a comparison of your treatment to others. 
Next, think about what you'd like to see happen differently. Be specific in your mind and come up with a few options that would describe a better interaction than the current unfair treatment. Once you have your thoughts together, you're prepared to talk with your boss. Ask for a few moments on his or her calendar in the next day or so.
If you're uncomfortable with your boss, or your treatment has been extreme in some way, you may want to invite a Human Resources representative to your initial discussion. I would avoid this if you can, but if you're uncertain, consult with Human Resources prior to the meeting. Share your plan for addressing the issue with your boss. Ask for their confidentiality, guidance, and support.
Here's an example of how you can initiate a discussion with your boss. "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I want to talk about the interaction we had on <day> where <insert high level overview>.  I'm interested in doing a good job for you and I want to be sure I'm meeting your expectations. I'm not comfortable with <our interaction> or <the unfair outcome>. I'd like specific feedback as to what you feel I need to adjust to improve my performance and/or our working relationship. I'd also like to share my thoughts about how we can better interact with each other."   
Keep a record of the date, time, discussion notes, decisions, commitments or other outcomes. Document all examples you can think of, past and present, for your own files, in case the situation doesn't improve over time and you need to escalate a concern. 
These conversations are difficult, but they can be very successful in introducing greater integrity in how your boss treats you. The key is that you need to address the situation clearly and quickly. And if it doesn't reconcile, you need to continue to address it until it improves. At some point, you may need to escalate the concern to your boss's boss or Human Resources and ask for their direct involvement. Don't hesitate to do this when it's warranted. Just be sure that you've tried to address the situation to the best of your ability, you've evaluated any role you might be playing in escalating the situation, and you truly believe you are being treated unfairly.  
One More Note About Fairness   
I've had people tell me in the past that they believed they were being treated unfairly, because their boss "liked" someone else more than them. Remember that your relationship with your boss may be very different from the relationship others have with him or her. This doesn't mean that you're being treated unfairly or that others are receiving more favorable consideration. Watch for clear signs of unfair treatment vs. perceived personality favoritism. 
Sometimes you'll align well with your boss; other times someone else will align better. Often, bosses are tougher on the people they align well with. Don't take it personally if your boss relates better to others. It happens all the time, at all levels of any organization. It also changes over time. As long as employees are treated fairly in the evaluation of their performance, given full and fair consideration for available opportunities, and provided equal access to key business information, don't concern yourself with it. Address unfair treatment. Ignore the rest. 

I'll step out on a limb and say it:  It's not too much to ask that your boss demonstrate integrity in the workplace. Notice that I said "demonstrate" integrity vs. "have" integrity. It doesn't really matter if your boss "has" integrity. What matters is whether your boss "demonstrates" integrity in his or her interactions in the workplace. There's no real value in trying to judge your boss's personal barometer for decency. Most of the time you won't know with any level of clarity anyway. You only see a slice of your boss's behavior in the workplace, and very little of it outside the workplace.

While you should expect that integrity be demonstrated, sometimes you may have to take responsibility for keeping it present. Help your boss keep commitments to you by making your priorities relevant to your boss. Prepare your boss to support you and gain consensus on commitments he or she has made. Trust is great, but documentation as a follow-up is even better. Get commitments in writing. Make sure you've done your part, and expect commitments to be met. When they aren't, have a conversation to understand and reset expectations as needed.

If you're treated unfairly by your boss, bring integrity to the table by acknowledging challenges and working with your boss to address them. Letting conflict simmer or escalate doesn't serve either of you well. Detach emotionally from the personal attack of unfair treatment and focus instead on what you'd like to see done differently. Be clear and specific, communicate with your boss as near to real-time after an incident as possible. If you continue to be treated unfairly, escalate the concern. Just be sure you've done all you can to address the situation within your own means.

Integrity is measured differently by every individual in the workplace. Perceptions of right vs. wrong live along a continuum, with no universal answer or expectation. Your success and satisfaction in the workplace really comes down to how closely you align with your boss on issues of integrity and how well you manage discrepancies in your perception. The better you do this, the better your relationship will be. The less "bad" your boss will be for you.

You can influence much more than you would think when it comes to sustaining integrity in a relationship. You just have to be prepared to do more than your fair share of the work at times. Maybe someone else will return the favor for you one day.

More soon,