When Commitments Conflict: Making Ethical Decisions Like a Funambulist

  • Jean Nizet Namur University, Belgium
  • Pauline Fatien Diochon Grenoble Ecole de Management, F-38000 Grenoble, France
  • Lakshmi Balachandran Nair Department of Business and Management, LUISS Guido Carli, 00197, Rome, Italy
Keywords: Ethics, Systemic approach, Hirschman, Equilibrium, Coaching


Given the complexity of organizations, individuals nowadays are handling an increasing number of commitments. When these commitments come into conflict, they can turn into ethical dilemmas. However, little is known about how individuals make ethical decisions in the face of such conflicting commitments. We investigated this issue within the context of executive coaching, since coaches often interact with multiple stakeholders as part of their assignments. We conducted 37 semi-structured interviews using the critical incident technique, that is, by asking executive coaches to share a situation that was ethically challenging for them. Based on our study, we derive the metaphor of funambulism to depict how individuals make decisions in the case of conflicting commitments. By building on the systemic framework, we show that executive coaches manage an equilibrium ‘along the way’ through an emergent system of practices, which involves making adjustments that can maintain or restore their system’s equilibrium (i.e., compatibility between commitments). This contribution alludes to the dynamic and constructed nature of ethics.


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Author Biographies

Jean Nizet, Namur University, Belgium

Jean Nizet has a background in sociology and philosophy. He (co-)authored several dozens of peer-reviewed papers (published in Business Ethics Quarterly, European Management Journal, Revue Française de Gestion, Management et Avenir, etc.), and (co-)authored or (co-)edited more than 20 books, mainly in the domains of organization theory and human resource management. He is a Professor Emeritus from two Universities in Belgium (Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve and Namur University).

Pauline Fatien Diochon , Grenoble Ecole de Management, F-38000 Grenoble, France

Pauline Fatien Diochon holds a PhD in Management from HEC School of Management (Paris, France) and is now an Associate Professor at People, Organizations and Society Department, Grenoble Ecole de Management (France) after an international career in the USA and Colombia. Pauline’s research explores the ethical, spatial and political dimensions of organizational phenomena, such as leadership development (especially coaching). She has (co-) published textbooks, case studies, and articles in outlets such as Organization, Business Ethics Quarterly, Annals of the New York Academy of Science, Scandinavian Journal of Management, Leadership, Revue Française de Gestion, etc. Her work was awarded the 2019 Best Coaching Case Award at the 11th ESMT Coaching Colloquium, the 2016 Benedictine University Award for Outstanding Paper on Ethical Issues in Consulting,  the 2015 Best Case Study in Human Resource Management, the 2018 Journal of Management Education Management Outstanding Reviewer Award.

Lakshmi Balachandran Nair , Department of Business and Management, LUISS Guido Carli, 00197, Rome, Italy

Lakshmi Balachandran Nair is a Senior Assistant Professor at the Methodology and Statistics Department, Utrecht University (The Netherlands). Lakshmi’s primary areas of expertise are qualitative research methods and ethics. She has published in various journals including Organizational Research Methods, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Management Inquiry, Research Synthesis Methods, Scientometrics etc., to name a few. For her work she has received various honors including the Academy of Management Best Paper Award (2014), Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Emerging Scholar Award (2018), British Academy of Management Best Full Paper Award (2018), and Innovation in Teaching of Research Methodology Excellence Award (2019).


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How to Cite
Nizet, J., Fatien Diochon , P., & Balachandran Nair , L. (2021). When Commitments Conflict: Making Ethical Decisions Like a Funambulist. M@n@gement, 24(1), 44-58. https://doi.org/10.37725/mgmt.v24i1.4497
Original Research Articles