Leadership Ethics: Borrowing or Stealing?

Borrowing, Sharing, Using without Credit is Stealing

We were in a hotel, two hours away from dinner, my son was starving and driving me crazy.  ”I don’t have any food for you!  What do you want me to do?” I asked.  He pointed to the minibar and reminded me that there is lots of food in there.  With a sigh I opened it up and he was quick to see the Snickers bar staring us in the face.  I caved and he chowed; everyone was happy.

I paid $2.15 for that before dinner treat but in a stoke of luck, out exploring, I noticed a heap of snickers bars for sale at the convenience store for only $.60.  I bought a few and when I got back to the I hotel tossed one back in the minibar only to notice the error of my ways.  Every item in the minibar had a hotel sticker on it so they would know about people, like me, who ate and replaced. Annoying.

I couldn’t pass off my Snickers bar as one of the hotel’s Snickers bars.  Not a big deal in the end.  What is a big deal is when people try to pass off work as their own, instead of giving credit to the person who created it.  No sticker to stop it from happening, it does happen, every day.

Does Magnitude Matter?  Does Intention?  Heart?

  • A tweet that is not credited
  • A photo on Facebook, pulled off Google, with some inspiring words pasted on top
  • A blog post that you spent many hours writing, reblogged without permission
  • eBooks intended for subscribers, reshared in a public forum
  • Client deliverables, passed off as new, that are simply a “find and replace” of client names
  • Proprietary processes that people bring from one org to another with every job shift
  • A leader that presents positive results with a proud “I did this.” Ummm… Hello??  McFly??  What about the team?
  • You buy one seat at a webinar and invite your entire team in to listen and learn
  • On and on and on

Integrity Matters

Coming from the woman who tried to replace the Snickers bar, I know that sounds funny. Good news?  I learned from my actions.  Learning was more than “don’t try this again” it was a new carving in my moral code that will be with me moving forward. We all have to know where our personal lines in the sand are drawn, make choices and live with our decisions.

Wikipedia says it well when they include “consistency” in their definition of integrity.  If you live by a sliding moral code, values that are constantly shifting, how will others know what to expect from you?  More importantly, will people give you their trust?

Trust is impossible without integrity
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The Mirror Matters

Can you look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about your decisions?  If so, good!  You have to be able to live with yourself, guilt is a mighty foe.  Keep looking and ask yourself:

  • Do I feel the need to defend my choices?
  • If I were on the other side of the table, would I care?  Be offended?  Hurt?
  • Where do I draw the line?

Leaders own their choices and actions. No room for blame.
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People Matter

You don’t look better by stealing (or “borrowing”) someone else’s spotlight, thought leadership or ideas.  Leaders shine the brightest when they make other people look good and give them credit for their contribution.  Not one of us lives in a bubble.  There is little that any of us can do alone compared to what we can accomplish together. We are stronger together.

Leaders don’t take credit for other people’s work.
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I know I have strong opinions on this one and you probably do too.  However, I’m not a fan of soapboxes.  I won’t tell you that I’m right and you’re wrong but I’ll leave you with this:  Don’t forget that you may not see the sticker in the minibar of life, but it’s still there. 

What’s your take?  Is there a line between borrowing and stealing?

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8 Responses to Leadership Ethics: Borrowing or Stealing?

  1. Dr. Ronald G. Shapiro February 7, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    I really try to credit everyone who contributes to my work. One of the challenges I face is convincing publishers of “popular publications” (as opposed to academic ones) that the footnotes I include as part of my submissions acknowledging reviewers, etc. are part of my article and that if the article is published, the footnote is to be published. Ron

  2. Karen Algios February 7, 2014 at 8:13 am #

    Years ago I worked for a major bank, but in a smaller yet growing company from within. I spent hours writing the procedures for my position, only to have it taken away from me by my Manager who told me it was company property. I did not think to question this with Human Resources. She put her name on it, published it as hers, got a promotion, and I wonder to this day, where differently, I might be had I stood up for myself.

  3. Sandra February 7, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Great article!

  4. Mapsie February 10, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    This is a huge eye opener. We usually take little things for granted yet they may cause a huge impact in future. Integrity really goes deeper and the question is “Are you able to live with yourself after doing what you know is wrong and/or take credit for someone else’s work”? It all boils down to ethics and self respect I guess.

  5. Alli Polin February 17, 2014 at 4:36 pm #


    Thanks for your comment! Interesting that publishers wouldn’t assume that the footnotes are essential. We’re so quick to drop off a little here and there until we’ve really missed the mark with attribution. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    ~ Alli

  6. Alli Polin February 17, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    Appreciate your feedback, Sandra!

    ~ Alli

  7. Alli Polin February 17, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    Karen ~

    I can understand that the actual documents needed to stay within the organization but putting someone else’s name on your work is just wrong. It’s also alarming that a Manager would think that they would need to “steal” work from someone. Truth is when leaders put others forward and give them credit, everyone looks good. Sad!

    ~ Alli

  8. Alli Polin February 17, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    Mapsie –

    What an important question to ask! Still, it seems like too many people are quick to answer “yes.” Ethics, respect, and integrity are easily explained away by people that don’t have them.


    ~ Alli