Season 6 - Episode 606
What is the impact of a manager focused solely on the bottom line? How do employees respond to different forms of ethical or unethical leadership? Matt Quade, the Kimberly and Aaron P. Graft Professor in Christian Leadership in Business in the Department of Management, is a prolific researcher into workplace ethics. He takes listeners inside the importance and impact of workplace ethics in this Baylor Connections.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor Leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today, we are talking leadership and workplace ethics with Matt Quade. Dr. Quade serves as the Kimberly and Aaron P. Graffe professor in Christian leadership in business in the Department of Management at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. He also is director of Hankamer's Christian Leadership and Ethics Office, a prolific researcher, a nationally recognized expert on workplace ethics. Quade examines a variety of topics related to ethical leadership and management practices. His work has been featured nationally in Harvard Business Review, consumer affairs and more, and we're pleased to have him today on the program. Matt, thanks so much for taking the time to join us. Looking forward to talking about some interesting and important topics with you.
Matt Quade:Thanks for having me, Derek. I'm excited to be here.
Derek Smith:Well, we've enjoyed seeing your work on Business Review and we've seen it featured on Baylor Proud, excited to have you on the show. And just to start off high level, as we talk about business ethics, was that always a topic that interest you? What led you down this path in your career?
Matt Quade:Yeah, so it's interesting, even as a child was always kind of a high justice kind of kid who really saw the difference between right and wrong and felt like as a first child, classic rule follower wanted other people to get in trouble if they did the wrong thing. And so as I began a PhD after my career in industry, ethics was a topic that really kind of captured my attention most. And a faculty member at Oklahoma State where I earned my PhD, her background was primarily in behavioral ethics. And so really got connected to her. And as I studied the literature, more and more felt like that's really what resonated with me most. And what had fascinated me even in the early parts of my career after I finished my undergrad, was just kind of how people behave in organizations and what causes them to engage in ethical ways or to stray from those things. And so I've really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to even what lies ahead for me.
Derek Smith:When we talk about workplace ethics and management ethics, well, there's so many different avenues down to which you could explore those topics. So for you, how do you begin to break that into different pieces that you can really focus on? How do different avenues within workplace ethics sort of come to the forefront for you in your research?
Matt Quade:Sure. Most of the work that I've done centers around leadership in some way. So I would say most of my research interest lies around the intersection of ethics and leadership, primarily because at the root of it, I've also, since being really young, like loved leadership. The early Matt Quade in high school wanted to be a basketball coach. I loved sports and kind of wanted to be a college basketball coach and spent time actually as a basketball manager during my undergraduate experience at the University of Tulsa. And so for me, I'm fascinated by how people respond to those that are leading them. And so when I think about ethics, I always want to think about it or look at it through the lens of how engagement with one's direct supervisor, direct leader really impacts the person's ability to engage in ethical or unethical ways. And so have really looked then at ethics from a leadership perspective kind of in three different ways. I've had projects that look at ethical leadership. I've had projects that look at forms of unethical leadership, like abusive supervision. And then I've also done studies that look at what we would call ethically-neutral or amoral leadership, kind of somewhere in the middle where we're not sure what that leader, where they stand when it comes to ethics. So really anything that centers in one of those three domains will grab my attention and be something I'd be interested in looking at more in-depth.
Derek Smith:Talking with Matt Quade. And Matt, it might be helpful as we visit for these next 20 minutes or show for everyone to know what your definition of ethical leadership is. When we talk about that, what's your definition?
Matt Quade:Yeah, that's a great question, Derek. So really ethical leadership is defined by people or managers who really do two things. They're what we would call an ethical or moral person. So they're actually living these things out, the things that they preach in the organization about upholding policies and standards and doing things the right way and caring about not just about the results that we get, but how we get those results. They actually live those things out themselves. So there is the moral or ethical person component, but then there's also the moral or ethical manager component. So they actually manage towards these things. They actually uphold those high standards for other people. So if they're managing someone who's not meeting those ethical standards, they're actually going to address those issues and they're going to levy consequences are they're going to try and redirect and bring people back in line with the ethical standards of the organization. And so that's kind of a long definition, but hopefully, it gives a framework to the listener of this is what we mean by ethical leadership. It's really someone who talks about ethics but also lives it out.
Derek Smith:You recently and by recently within the last few years, had studies on bottom-line mentality. They really drew some interest from media outlets and people within the business world. And take us through that a little bit. When did you begin to study this topic, and what brought that to the forefront for you?
Matt Quade:Yeah, that's a great question. So when I was at Oklahoma State, my dissertation advisor, Rebecca Greenbaum, who's now at Rutgers University, she had published a paper in 2012 on bottom-line mentality, which was sort of the seminal work on this topic within the management literature. Certainly, the idea of someone having a bottom-line mentality is not a new topic in the last 10 years. Many listeners are going like, "Yeah, I've been around people who have that kind of mentality." I In the workplace for the last 50 years, my whole career I've been exposed to people like that, but it hadn't really been studied in management literature. So we didn't know what caused people to have that kind of mentality. We didn't know what the results of it were. And so that was something she'd been studying for a couple of years as I started my PhD. And so we began to work on some papers together. And I was just really fascinated by this idea that when someone is really only motivated by bottom-line results, typically, what we're focused on there is money, profits, financial outcomes at the expense of other things because the kind of definition of bottom-line mentality is that's one-dimensional thinking and sort of negating or excluding other factors that it can really have these negative effects, particularly on ethics usually. And so began studying the topic really 2013, 2014, and have published several papers on it now where we're kind of seeing these negative effects. It impacts people in negative ways. And I've even recently published a study; one of my most recent studies found that when your leader or your supervisor has a bottom-line mentality, it can even transfer into your home life where, and it has negative implications for you at home. And so I believe this is a really kind of detrimental leadership attitude or mindset and kind of want to help people steer away from it, have a more balanced approach to how they manage people. It needs to be a balanced approach. And I teach this in my classes here at Baylor. Being an ethics professor, it's easy for me to talk a lot about ethics in the classroom, but at the end of the day, you do have to sell a product or service that will make money so that your company can exist, right? But what's important is that you're doing that in an ethical way. And so similarly with bottom-line mentality, absolutely, leaders need to focus on bottom-line outcomes and making sure their employees are achieving results and metrics that the organization is set out for them, but it's important how they do those things as well.
Derek Smith:So when there's that hyper focus on the bottom-line at the expense of other things, you said there's negative effects at home, at work, among employees and the people they lead. Take us through some of those look like. What are some of the practical ways that this bottom-line mentality impacts people around them?
Matt Quade:So the literature is getting more and more robust. If you were to jump on Google Scholar, which is a place where you can find a lot of the scientific literature that's out there, and you just typed in bottom-line mentality, you'd see the expanse of research that has taken place in the last 10 years on this topic. And pretty quickly you would notice all of these papers that are signaling some of these negative outcomes. And so I'll just list a few of them. One of them is social undermining among coworkers. So it would be Derek, if you and I were coworkers and our boss engaged with this bottom-line mentality, then I'd be more likely to figure out ways, "Well, gosh, I'm kind of competing against Derek," and so maybe I'll even undermine him to make sure that I am more successful than he is. And so that's one outcome. Another outcome is actually kind of reduced performance, and that's one of what one of my papers shows is that employees, because they feel less connected to their boss, they feel less supported by their boss or manager who has this bottom-line mentality, it actually decreases their performance. So this thing that the boss wants most, this bottom-line performance actually sometimes doesn't happen because the employee doesn't feel supported the way he or she might want to. Again, some of the things I mentioned a little bit earlier are some of these outcomes that even can trickle outside of the organization into someone's home life that could cause the employee to have relationship tension among family members. There are only one or two studies that are trying to identify, well, what are some of the positives of bottom-line mentality, and that research is not really coming to the forefront as much yet.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Matt Quade. And Matt, you interviewed both supervisors and the people they supervise in these and other studies. And I'm curious, Matt, what kind of questions do you ask to get at those answers? Because I'm going to guess most employees just aren't eager to say, "Yeah, I don't give my best" That's probably not what they're eager to say. So what are some of the questions that have been most meaningful for you to unlock really useful information?
Matt Quade:Yeah, that's a great question too, Derek, because a lot of times people will ask me, "So what do you research? How does that work?" And so it's helpful to just pull the curtain back a little bit. So I'm a behavioral researcher within the business school. Most all of my colleagues in the management department would be doing similar studies where they would be asking participants, men and women who are out in the workforce to be responding to survey questions, items that make up a scale construct, like bottom-line mentality or performance or ethical leadership. And we would ask them four or five questions that they would rate on a five or seven point scale, usually from a strongly disagree to strongly agree. And we would conduct analyses to determine like, okay, here's where they sit on performance, here's where they sit on bottom line mentality. Here's where they sit on ethical leadership, for example. And a lot of times those questions are things like ... If we were talking about performance for example, it might be things like, I complete the things that are expected of me on a regular basis, or I perform at a high level regularly, or I'm meeting the expectations that my supervisor has for me. If we were talking about ethical leadership, it might be questions like, I consider the welfare of my employees, or I care about the way that my organization achieves results, or I uphold high ethical standards, or I hold people accountable. And so we can ask these survey items of these different constructs and then we can run these mathematical analyses to determine what the results are showing us in these samples that we study.
Derek Smith:That's really fascinating. It gets different pieces of the mosaic that blend together to give you that more complete look.
Matt Quade:Yeah, exactly.
Derek Smith:Well, if someone's a leader who's listening, and I would imagine most leaders these days in some level or another, feel of pressure of changing workplaces of environments, there's a lot of change around this. So what are some takeaways you'd like leaders to have, particularly as you talk to what employees expect from their supervisors, or what helps employees perform at their best beyond even just simply I obviously I think as Christians we want to make sure we're behaving ethically, but what are some ways that we can really get into the weeds on that?
Matt Quade:I think a big thing that we see pretty robustly in the research, and we've got scholars here in the business school who do a lot of work on servant leadership. I've done just a little bit in published on it, less so than some of my colleagues, but I think the literature's pretty robust that employees want to work for leaders and supervisors who care about them and who care about their career. And frankly, that's what we teach our students, that as you go out into the workforce as a leader, you need to shepherd and steward the resources you're given. And one of those resources you're given are the people that are under your charge as a leader. And so you ought to engage them regularly, you ought to try to cultivate development within them in their career and provide opportunities for them to grow and be seeking out ways to help expose them to learning opportunities in the organization or ways to expose them to new opportunities or new levels within the organization. And so that's time-consuming, right, Derek? I mean, I tell my students all the time, the challenge for leaders is part of your role as a leader or manager is to still do the actual work, that's a part of your job, but a main part of your job is actually to manage your people, which is a full-time job in and of itself. And so it's time-consuming. And frankly, I think a lot of times that's the part that can fall by the wayside because a leader, a boss goes, "Well, I don't have time to go manage my people well. I got to focus on the bottom line are the things that my boss expects me to complete." And so really my encouragement to students and to stakeholders when I talk to them is to begin to create a rhythm, like a leadership rhythm where you are thinking about what are the ways that I can build out routines or habits that will allow me to really support and encourage the people I'm leading that feels natural almost, but also that allows me to make sure that it happens, that I really am making time to lead these people well? So it's kind of a roundabout way to try and list some things that might be actionable for people. And we can keep talking and maybe I can list a few more or see what other questions you might have here.
Derek Smith:No, that's a great description. Some of it just sounds like being purposeful to make sure you are delving into people's lives as we visit with Matt Quade, Kimberly and Aaron P. Graffe professor in Christian leadership in business in the department of Management at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. Maybe a better way for me to put that would be you getting to know your employees as people and what they're facing and building that some of those bonds. And as we talk about that, another area of your research, amoral leadership, what does your research in amoral management look like? Where do you go with that?
Matt Quade:Yeah, I'm hard because I don't want to say this is my favorite topic of research because it's pretty negative as well, and maybe I should say ethical leadership is my favorite because it leads to all these good things and it promotes ethical cultures. But I think amoral management is a really good warning sign for people to be aware of, and even for our listeners to consider, how am I viewed by the people I'm leading? So here's what amoral management is, amoral management, or you can think of it as ethically-neutral leadership. If we think about ethics and morals being sort of synonymous for most people in their minds is, essentially just the absence of talking about morals or ethics with the people that you lead. So you're just silent. When there's an ethical issue. You just sort of try and be quiet about it and kind of hold your tongue, you don't speak into those ethical situations. If there's a moral or ethical dilemma on your work team, you kind of go dark, you try and let other people deal with it, or you're trying to let other people solve the problem. You're not proactively talking about ethics or morals with people. So you're quiet on those issues from the outset. So maybe you're not doing a lot of training around that for your people. What's fascinating about this, Derek, is there's been other research done that leads us to believe that if we want to think about three types of ethics-based leaders, we would've ethical leaders, we would've ethically neutral or amoral in the middle, and then we would've unethical on the other far side of it. Of those three categories, we believe the most common, unfortunately might be the ethically neutral or amoral. That might be the most common category for someone to find themselves in. And frankly, I kind of think that's true because it's really hard to talk to people about ethics because ... And this is what I talk about in class all the time if I sit you down, Derek, as my employee and say, Hey, we need to talk about this issue, and I begin to go into this big thing about ethics, well, immediately, perceived as judging you, I'm perceived as positioning myself as better than you. And so a lot of us don't really want to give that signal to people. We don't want to signal that I think I'm better than you or that I'm judging you, or that I could potentially be a hypocrite someday if I ever fail. So because of that, a lot of people don't have the confidence and they sit sort of in that amoral seat and they just try to be quiet about these things. What my research finds is that amoral management leads to unethical behavior. And as you might expect, unethical leadership also leads to unethical behavior. And so what I teach in my classes is that, hey, if there's three categories of ethics-based leadership, two of them are really bad, two of them are actually going to end up in the negative outcome in terms of how your employees are likely to engage when it comes to ethics. And so if it's true that this is the most common category, we really have to help people develop an ethical voice. And so that's what I'm really passionate about in my classes and with stakeholders who I get to engage is trying to equip them to develop an ethical voice to really feel confident in talking about ethics with the people that they're around in the workplace.
Derek Smith:I think a lot of people could probably relate to what you just said. So what are some ways that people who want to have a positive impact and don't want to let those issues go by the wayside and fester, what are some ways they can kind of positively flex that muscle no matter what kind of ... We're here at Baylor in a Christian school environment, others may not be.
Derek Smith:How can people flex that muscle or exercise that muscle, maybe a better way to put it, in different settings?
Matt Quade:Yeah. So there's three or four things that I usually try to help people think about that to me seemed pretty practical or kind of targets that people can aim for. Number one is to be respectful. When I'm talking with someone, I can always take a posture of humility and respect, and even we teach a lot of our students in a Christian leadership scholarship program I get to lead about Ephesians 4 leadership. And in Ephesians 4:1, Paul talks about approaching things with humility. And so I can be humble and respectful towards anyone I'm talking to, even if I'm having to correct them as an employee. So being respectful. Number two would be to be clear. I can be really clear in my expectations as a leader, "I can say, you know what, here's what the policy says or here's what my expectations are as your leader." And I'm really specific and really clear about those things. The third one is to be consistent. I have to, as a leader, be consistent as much as I can across all people in all situations. And when I am consistent, that gives me more confidence, which is the fourth one is to be confident. When I'm consistent in the way I'm levying ethical expectations across my work team, then I don't have to kind of waiver and it gives me more confidence to feel like I have ground to stand on because my employees know, Hey, this is what Matt expects as a leader, and this is what he expects in our team. And so I shouldn't be surprised if I didn't meet that standard or if we maybe got too far into the gray area on this issue, I should expect that he's going to pull me back to what's clear and what's right for us as a team on this issue. And so those are the four approaches that I try to help people think about that can be sort of targets for them. And my hope is that as people just aim for one at a time, that they can have some development and not get discouraged, but feel like, Hey, these are actionable steps I'm taking that over time can help me become a more ethical leader.
Derek Smith:So humility, clarity, consistency, and confidence. So those great core takeaways from Matt Quade as we visit here on Baylor Connections. Well, Matt, we're heading into the final couple of minutes of the program, and we could probably do a lot longer on unethical behavior. We'll have to talk to you another time about that. Are those the ones that the best case scenario is a company-wide email, the worst case is, are you all on the news? I mean, I know I'm exaggerating a little bit, but is that kind of what we're getting into when you talk about that?
Matt Quade:Yeah, and I guess the one thing I would say that the listeners might hear, and this would be kind of a quick one, is this one of my first studies that I did after I got to Baylor. And it looks at kind of the impact of the interaction of unethical behavior on performance. And what we found is people will stay away from coworkers who are engaging in bad behavior, unethical behavior, whether that's lying, cheating, stealing, falsifying expense reports, those kinds of things. But if that person is a high performer, they're not likely to stay away from them, right? So at the end of the day, it kind of goes back to that bottom-line mentality thing of where performance talks, money talks. And so if we see someone as this high performer, then we're still going to try to stay associated with them, even if they're behaving badly. And so what we need to really be clear on as leaders and organizations is that it's not just about bottom-line, it's not just about performance, but it really is how we achieve those results and then helping that be a culture that the whole organization takes on that, Hey, we want to be high-performing, we want to be high achieving, but it matters how we get there.
Derek Smith:Matt Quade, really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much for joining us. We look forward to visiting with you again.
Matt Quade:Thanks, Derek, and thanks for what you do on this podcast and helping connect the great things that are happening here at Baylor with all of our great stakeholders.
Derek Smith:Well, I really appreciate that. Really no shortage of great people to talk to around here. I'm glad to have you on the program today. Thank you so much.
Derek Smith:Matt Quade, Kimberly and Aaron P. Graffe professor in Christian, leadership in Business in the Department of Management at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, our guest today on Baylor Connections. He also serves as director in Hankamer's Christian Leadership and Ethics Office. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this set of the programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.