What is ethical when it comes to business and leadership? The roots of ethical thinking actually go back to ancient Greek Philosophers who worked their entire lives to construct what we now call ethics. The common definition of ethics include the components of (1) ethics as a philosophy concerned with the discovery of the truth, (2) incorporating fundamental values, (3) concerned with what is right and what is wrong, (4) has moral components, and (5) is distinct and separate from what is legal. Based on these components, it is no wonder why we see daily examples of unethical leadership. From Toyota to Enron, time and time again we see leaders fall from the graces of power due to unethical behaviors.
There are many reasons why leaders find themselves trying to balance on the tightrope of ethical behavior and organizational success. Often heard is the leader who says, “it is just the way this industry or this region does business.” Ethics are based on values and values must be chosen freely by individuals. True values are something that guides one’s life and cannot be dependent on some authority figure enforcing them. The values must be free from coercion in order to be effective. When we value something, it has a positive quality for us. We tend to cherish it, respect it, and consider it important. When we have a value, it shows up in every aspect of our lives. We spend money on what we value, we spend time on what we value, and we spend energy on what we value. When we are not clear about our values or when we value the wrong thing over what is right, we fall in the trap of unethical leadership behaviors.
Because organizations are social by nature, ethics is relevant to leadership. Because businesses are social, there is a need for leadership to move followers towards the realization of a vision. In order to give legitimacy and credibility to the vision, the leader’s moral principles and integrity are important. When a pattern of unethical behavior is revealed, consumers and followers begin to wonder who and what the company is all about. Moral questions begin to arise and trust is diminished. This begins a cycle of decline and eventually can lead to the organizations failure to continue to operate.
Leadership involves the ability to surround oneself with people who will not agree to everything. When a leader is surrounded with “yes” people, then groupthink develops and values begin to get confused and altered. Effective leaders surround themselves with people who will hold them accountable, who challenge them, and who create alternative solutions to problems. In order to avoid the trap of unethical behavior in the effort to make more profit, leaders must continue to revisit the vision/mission of the company, the leader’s values, and the goals set by the leader for long term success.
In order to improve leadership skills, consider the tips that follow:
· Participate in leadership training
· Join online leadership groups
· Network with people who will hold you accountable
· Never stop learning
Baggerly-Hinojosa (2010). Are You a 10? USA: Lulu Publishers.
Ethics Newsline (2010). Current topics in global ethics. www.globalethics.org/newsline