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Avoid the Appearance of Wrongdoing By Lee Ellis

Avoid the Appearance of Wrongdoing – A Leader’s Reminder

You’re in a work or ministry situation where it’s not necessarily wrong or improper, but the appearance of your activity or decision could mistakenly be construed as a wrongdoing. What do you do? Launch forward and accept the consequences or avoid the appearance of wrongdoing altogether?

As I’ve seen in the past, good leaders that make decisions without proper due diligence and perspective can undermine their influence and career for a long time. This soft skill must be discussed, and let’s look at a couple of examples.

Slippery Slope

Recent news reports that another mayor is being subpoenaed for corruption involving excessive bonuses given to city employees. The final verdict is pending, but even the appearance of corruption could have been mitigated in this situation.

Another news report is that a governor has been accused of ethical and legal wrongdoing, with the latest news that they have admitted to some wrongdoing while the rest of the case is being investigated.

How many times do we hear stories like these across multiple industries and public offices? Wherever there is the opportunity for power, pleasure, or prestige, it’s easy to get off course. And the average citizen, employee, or witness is further de-sensitized to the issue and left with a sense of frustration and erosion of trust.

Looking Inward

While we regularly hear and watch stories of other people in unethical situations, the most important step is to examine ourselves first. If we can’t control the behavior or actions of others, we can control our personal actions and decisions. But what are some tangible ways that we can keep ourselves in check?

4 Practical Tips

Regardless of the type of work that you do, you can successfully avoid the appearance of wrongdoing and keep your honorable influence and reputation as a leader intact. Based on my executive coaching experience with staff and clients, here are four practical tips that you can apply right now –

(1) Be realistic.

Opportunities will come up to move off-course from making the right decision (or the appearance of the right decision). Be realistic, expect them to come up, and accept our human vulnerability.

(2) Be prepared.

Are you really committed to honorable leadership? If so, how? Clarify your personal standards and commitments. If you need some guidelines, download the free Honor Code ( that thousands of leaders have used to establish their personal guardrails.

(3) Be in community.

Part of making wise daily decisions is getting support and being accountable to others. Specifically, I’m recommending a positive vs punitive accountability arrangement where everyone mutually benefits.

(4) Be courageous.

Set boundaries and don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions. Think long-term, not short-term when these situations come up. Get a copy of the free Courage Challenge Card ( to help you along the way.

The Essence of Character

In essence, what I’ve described in this article is having basis of good character in your personal and professional life. The appearance of wrongdoing is just a symptom of a potentially deeper character issue. And it’s a very difficult one to repair if bad decisions are made.

Please share your tips and experience on this topic in the comments section. What guidelines do you give yourself for avoiding the appearance of wrongdoing?


Lee Ellis is the president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company. Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, team building, human performance, and succession planning. His media appearances include interviews on CNN, CBS This Morning, C-SPAN, ABC World News, and Fox News Channel. A retired Air Force Colonel, his latest award-winning book about his Vietnam POW experience is entitled Leading with Honor: Lessons for the Hanoi Hilton 



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