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Advisors: What ethical personality type are you?

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Another day, another possible encounter with a sticky ethics situation. Advisors face dilemmas on a regular basis and how they behave in the workplace might possibly carry over to how they handle clients.

According to author and ethics guru Mark Pastin, there are four primary ethical personality types in the workplace. The breakdown is intriguing as it pinpoints the ethical behavior, the reaction and the likely outcome of one’s actions.

As Pastin describes the different individuals, you will most surely recognize a co-worker, or perhaps even yourself.

  1. The Conformist: This is the classic “rule follower” who rarely, if ever, questions authority. This person adheres to the guidelines and guidance of his superiors, which would make one think that he is a compliance officer’s dream. However, “the Conformist might look the other way if higher-up staff member is acting unethical, since a manager is someone he is supposed to obey,” according to Pastin. He cautions that the Conformist is destined to run into work-related ethical issues unless the organization has “a set of rigid rules and well-defined consequences for not following them.”
  2. The Navigator: This could be called the “gut-check” ethical type. Less about the hard and fast rules, the navigator relies on his own intuition to guide himself through unethical situations. This person “has a generally sound moral compass, which gives the Navigator the flexibility to make choices, even unpopular ones,”Pastin said. They tend to be held in high esteem by co-workers who appreciate their ability to weigh consequence and adapt the rules, while retaining an ethical center. Many advisors fall into this category since there are strict compliance guidelines to manage their actions, but also flexibility when dealing with clients’ respective and unique situations.  
  3. The Negotiator: Negotiators try to play the middle more than most. If they observe an instance that may breach ethics, their first instinct is not to immediately act or react. Instead, Negotiators often take a “wait and see” approach to ensure that something actually needs to be addressed. You can see how this might backfire in resolving an ethical problem if the Negotiator is a primary (or only) participant. Pastin said that “Navigators will encounter ethics-related trouble if their jobs require them to exercise judgment without guidelines, because they change the rules according to what seems easiest at the time.”
  4. The Wiggler: The Wiggler is out for himself and is best epitomized by Dogbert in the popular Dilbert series—a powerful and corrupt individual who seeks world dominance. While this makes for great cartoon fodder, Wigglers lie to advance their own agendas. These individuals are the least likely to last in an advisor scenario as they will quickly run afoul of the rules that govern them. 

Fittingly, most advisors will be a combination of several categories and as Pastin said “your ethical type isn’t set in stone…with practice, you can make ethical decisions more easily, and more quickly see and follow the right path.”


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