This summer, I was in Italy interviewing a former officer in the Special Forces for my upcoming book, The Wave. After sharing many stories, this impressive, decorated hero said something I found fascinating, "It was my job to help my men see that it's never okay to do an easy wrong instead of a hard right."
That's morality in a nutshell: doing what's merely convenient is never acceptable for its own sake. When faced with the choice between expedience and moral, ethical action, the leader must choose the harder path. Leaders lead by example. Leaders go first.
This is an old-fashioned notion in a world where people are often more concerned with the optics of a decision-how it plays to the media or shareholders-than with its moral and ethical implications. Leaders should know that easy, questionable choices are slippery slope. The "easy" road leads to rationalization and self-justification, and conveys a message to those observing that it's fine to play fast and loose with the facts or product quality.
Hard choices announce loud and clear, "THIS is the way we do things. THIS and nothing else is acceptable." By rewarding those who choose "hard rights," the wise leader also says, "I know this isn't easy, and it was extra work, but I recognize your wisdom."
What message are you sending your team about "hard rights" and "easy wrongs"?