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It’s great to live according to your values… But, what are they?

The New York Times article was titled “What happens when Millennials run the workplace?” I couldn’t resist reading it. (What Baby Boomer could?) The writer endeavored not to take an editorial view, but came off a little condescending anyway. He shared anecdotes about typical office drama and how it plays out in a company whose entire management team and staff was born after 1980.

There was the reaction of the CEO when an employee challenged him in public. He spoke of his difficulty controlling his temper.

“I was a little taken aback by the tone, but I told her I would address it…”

As an occupant of a few corner offices, I might have told him it won’t be the last time that will happen and it gets easier as time goes by.

Of course, I had the benefit of a few mentors during my formative years in management. There was Lt. Jon Norager, my first boss in the Navy, and Bill Downie, who kept me on track during my first post-military assignment. In my new book (The Reluctant CEO: Succeeding without Losing Your Soul) due out on May 16, I created a composite character as mentor to the young protagonist.

Here’s the anecdote in the Times article that triggered my thought that this young CEO may need a mentor.

A young man in his employ lied about going to a funeral in order to scam a week off. Then, he blogged and tweeted about it so everyone in the company knew. Following a discussion with his CEO, he was allowed to stay.

In my last post (A Baby Boomer who believes in the Millennial Generation), I expressed my admiration for a generation that insists on living according its values.

So, what values is this young CEO modeling?

In a company, values start at the top. You get what you tolerate. If you tolerate lying, that’s what you’ll get.

I recall my 20’s as a confusing time. It’s not always easy to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong in the complex social environment of a modern workplace. In the absence of a mentor, how does one work through tough issues?

What often guided me – what still guides me – is to imagine what my late mother would have said. And, Mom – my Mom and probably yours – never taught me that it was okay to lie.

Would I have fired a young man who lied to get some time off and then bragged about it? Yes, I would have. Maybe I would have lost a talented contributor. But the team would know what I did and why. Lying will not be tolerated.

Most challenges faced by CEOs young and old are not quite that simple. When managing a workplace populated by a diverse group of people, one encounters different opinions on what is right and what is wrong.

Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz, co-author of Practical Wisdom: the Right Way to Do the Right Thing, tells us we need the moral will to do the right thing and the skill to know what that is.

As for me, I simply imagine what my Mom would say.

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