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Becoming a Career Activist

Fairfillment: The Foundation for Fulfillment
By Peter Weddle
Courtesy Weddle's Newsletter

The CEO of BP released a video of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that indicated the environmental damage is much greater than previously known. According to news reports, this information was in his possession for some time, but he chose not to provide it to the public. His act may not have been illegal, but it set a new low for ethics at work. And, it is the polar opposite of an emerging standard I call "fairfillment."

Today's workplace is seeing a growing number of men and women transform themselves into career activists. These individuals recognize that they (and everyone) have been endowed with a talent — a capacity for excellence — and they are determined to express and experience that unique gift in the one-third of their life they spend on the job. A career activist works for their individual fulfillment, but believes the accomplishment of that end depends upon their first embracing fairness.

The dictionary defines the word fair as "being consistent with ethics." Hence, a career activist serves their own best interests by respecting the best interests of everyone else. They will not obey an illegal order from their boss because harming the community or the planet prevents them from being fulfilled. They will not cut corners, shade the truth or hide dangerous situations because victimizing those around them diminishes both who they are and who they aspire to be.

Career activists, in effect, accept the responsibility for distinguishing between right and wrong actions in their work. American soldiers are expected to exercise such discretion in the heat of combat — when the calculus determines life or death — so career activists believe it is neither unrealistic nor asking too much to expect working men and women to do the same on the job. If the American people can demand that those who defend them do so in accordance with the Geneva Convention and the rules of war, then they should hold themselves to a similarly strict set of rules in their workplace behavior.

That commitment means more than simply adhering to the letter of the law. Certainly, career activists don't steal from their employers. But equally as important, they don't stoop to lying or cheating either. They are, for example, the human resource manager who refuses to backdate stock option grants for the executives in her company. They are the commissioned salesperson who will not sell a product he knows is defective. They are the engineer who refuses to approve construction work that is shoddy and dangerous even if it delays the project. And, they are the actuary who will not sign a financial statement they know to be untrue regardless of the pressure they get from their boss.

Career activists do not set themselves up as the ethics police, but they do hold themselves to a high standard of personal conduct. They refuse to stoop to behavior that they know is wrong or to justify it as something they were "forced" to do by their superior. They strive to be the principled citizens of the workplace. Career activists will not work for organizations that condone, encourage or require illegal, unethical or inappropriate behavior. And if, by chance, they find themselves employed by one, they refuse to go along.

Career activists take such a stand knowing full well that it can have negative consequences. They may suffer the disapproval and even the public criticism of their supervisor. They might be ostracized by coworkers who are unwilling to hold themselves to a similar standard. They may see a decline in their performance evaluation and, therefore, lose a raise or promotion they would otherwise have earned. And, they might be fired because, ironically, they "don't live up to" the expectations of their employer.

There's no question that the impact of these consequences can be onerous and even damaging, especially in today's difficult economic climate. They can (temporarily) derail a person's progress in their career, undermine their financial security and impose a psychological or emotional burden on them and their family. The one thing these outcomes cannot do, however, is diminish their self-respect. Career activists are not perfect — they make the same mistakes and missteps as other people — but they always know that they have done so while reaching for the high bar of personal integrity. They may suffer setbacks along the way, but they never suffer a blow to their self-esteem.