When doing the right thing gets you in trouble

Concern with appearances can distort behaviour, as this research shows.

by Adam Gale

For leaders even remotely concerned with their legacy, doing the right thing matters. Indeed, the best leaders, you would think, apply strong personal values, such as honesty and integrity, to everything they do. 

There are occasions, however, when a concern to appear ethical can lead to exactly the kinds of unethical behaviour that you would otherwise try to avoid. 

In a series of studies, researchers Shoham Choshen-Hillel, Eugene Caruso and Alex Shaw identified three common circumstances where extrinsic morality - keeping up appearances - conflicts with intrinsic morality - doing what you believe is right.

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