Blog 5: ethics-based leadership

I think that it is somewhat tragic that ethics-based leadership must be specifically researched and taught. I hoped that in present times, leadership consisted of highly ethical behaviour by default. However, I suppose that the corporate scandals caused by Enron and Countrywide prove that the assumption of “all leaders are ethical” is wrong. Perhaps in their mind, they were acting ethically. The question is now, “what is ethical leadership?”

I had an enlightening moment when I viewed The Truth About Dishonesty animation. The video described how frequently people rationalise their dishonest behaviour, and how effectively it can stop people from feeling guilty or ashamed of their dishonest actions. I was very surprised to see that, based on the presenter’s experiment, the larger number of people who perform low-value dishonest acts has a much higher impact than the few people who perform high-value dishonest acts. That is value of the pens and Post-it notes being stolen by employees from their workplaces is much higher than the skimming of corporate accounts receivable.

I am wondering how a leader can improve this situation. I think that it is fairly easy for leaders to discourage major dishonest acts. I feel that most leaders and employees would agree that acts of bribery and collusion are unethical. Employees should be informed to not engage in this behaviour, and the ones that do should be terminated. But effectively encouraging employees to not perform minor dishonest acts would be much more difficult. Firstly, employees may feel that you are insulting their intelligence. Secondly, employees may interpret that their leaders are being cheap. Thirdly, and probably worst of all, employees may feel that they are being micromanaged, which most employees likely do not enjoy.

The Centre for Positive Organizational Scholarship listed several practices that business can use to encourage their employees to be ethical. Most of the suggestions were rather formal, such as having employees complete ethics training and agree to a strict code of ethics. I fear that these techniques are very prescriptive and would not be very effective. An employee could ignore or forget the ethical training and agreements that they engaged in. However, since every individual has their own understanding of ethical behaviour, some level of recurring training and agreement of ethical behaviour in the organization is required.

The practice mentioned in the article that I feel would be most effective is ethical decision making. Managers and employees must consider and discuss the ethical implications of the business decisions they make. They should frame the discussion about whether a decision is right and in the best interests of the company and society. Past decisions can also be reviewed to determine if the right decision was made, from an ethics perspective so the organization can learn from its experience.

After participating in the class and reading this material, I understand how important ethical leadership is. I also understand the implications of doing a poor job of ethical leadership. When I meet with my team and make decisions regarding our work, I will have an open discussion with them to determine if we are doing the right thing. I feel that my team has a good understanding of my organizations code of conduct (although I should probably review it myself), and would easily be able to identify the ethical path.

 

References

Mayer, D. M., Kuenzi, M., & Greenbaum, R. L. How can we create ethical organizations. Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship. July 22, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2013. http://www.centerforpos.org/2011/07/how-can-we-create-ethical-organizations/

RSA Animate. The Truth about Dishonesty. Published September 14, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBmJay_qdNc

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