Ethically, what would you do? The joy of giving


With the boss posted out of the unit in one month’s time, the unit leadership mobilized to plan a departure lunch and find an appropriately meaningful gift for their popular leader, Col Jones. Capt Smith was appointed by LCol Brown, her section head, as the lead for selecting, sourcing, and purchasing the gift for Col Jones. Capt Smith was a little nervous about this unexpected task. LCol Brown was a “hands-off” section head and he had made it clear to the section that he didn’t like to be copied on emails or disturbed in his office—and Capt Smith was a little intimidated about reporting to him directly on this important project.

Gift ideas chosen

After considerable thought, Capt Smith brainstormed with her peers and came up with three gift ideas and pricing options. The first option was provided by a fellow captain who had generously offered to provide a gift card for a night in a luxury suite at a well-known hotel in the city. The captain had won the gift card as a door prize while attending a local home improvement exposition. He didn’t have the time to use it, and was happy to donate it. The second option, worth approximately $500 dollars, was a framed print by a prominent war artist. The third and final option consisted of tickets for a Toronto Maple Leafs game, the colonel’s favourite hockey team.

In light of LCol Brown’s dislike for internal communications, Capt Smith opted to reach out to the unit section heads and conduct a poll to determine their preferred gift selection. The returns from her poll indicated that option one, the gift card for a night at a local hotel, had the most votes. The second gift option, the framed print, came a close second. Despite the expense, the section heads thought it would be a good second option should the first option fall through. The third gift option Capt Smith proposed (hockey tickets), was ruled out by the unit entirely.

Project update

Two weeks later, LCol Brown reached out to Capt Smith and requested a project update. She advised him of the various options that she had presented to the section heads, and the overwhelming selection of option one as the preferred choice. LCol Brown advised Capt Smith that in his view, option one was not befitting of the rank of colonel and he could not support this decision. While he acknowledged that option two was pricey, he suggested that it was an appropriate selection. The meeting ended with Capt Smith informed that gift option one was no longer viable, but no instructions were given regarding the purchase of the framed print.

The problem

With two weeks to go until the departure lunch, Capt Smith was left with little time to brainstorm for alternate gift ideas. In haste, and at her own expense, she purchased the framed print. When the donation envelope was passed around the unit, she realized with dismay that the monies raised would only cover half of what she had actually spent. The unit members, seemingly unhappy with their preferred option being vetoed, had expressed their displeasure with their wallets. Capt Smith, who had received no money from LCol Brown for the gift, was now out $200 from her own pocket. Concerned, she spoke to her immediate supervisor, Maj Philpott, who gave her $100 from his own pocket to help offset the cost.

One week later, during Col Jones departure luncheon, LCol Brown presented the departure gift.

What would you do if you were Capt Smith? How do you think the situation was handled by LCol Brown?

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