We previously discussed that Maritz Research revealed that 1 in 10 Americans believe their company’s leaders are ethical and honest (Great Leaders Walk Naked). Let’s explore what ethics are, what a code of ethics is, and how great leaders practice business ethics.
Valuing employees, respect, and integrity are common core values that are visually displayed in mission statements or in employee handbooks. Great leaders realize that it is not the phrasing within the documents that make a difference. The real difference comes from the leader’s behavior – how they show up every day. Below are some examples of ethical leadership.
You Inspire Others to Be Ethical
No matter what style of leadership a manager, teacher, or parent possesses there are ethical behaviors to consider in the relationship between the leader and the people they influence. A true measure of leadership is the ethical influence the leader has on his or her followers, or stakeholders. An ethical leader is one that considers positive and negative views, the rights of everyone involved, ensures decisions are made in an ethical manner, and members are held accountable. The ethical actions of a leader enhance his or her credibility and integrity which causes followers to trust. Employees, students, and children establish faith in their leader’s decision making and the choices the leader makes by listening and watching what they do.
You Are Always on Stage
Ethics is related to how leaders interact with others and how leaders act when they think no one is around. When a leader is courteous, kind, and respectful toward others, people associate these outwardly actions to indicate a high level of ethical conduct. When people see a leader pick up trash or help a stranger when the leader thinks they are not being watched, this tells the true character of a leader. Attitudes and behaviors that are most visible are caring and concern of others’ needs.
You Communicate with Care
Last week I was working with a team of senior leaders that wrote leadership metrics for key leaders within their company. They came up with a metric they named “Communicate with Care”: An ethical leader is one that truly emulates a high sense of consideration by being responsive to all people – not just the people they like, or the people they consider to be worthy of their time.
Additionally, great leaders encourage people from all walks of life, with little leadership experience, to develop their leadership abilities. Kotter (1990) describes this development of leaders as creating a “leadership centered culture”. When leaders generate a team of ethical leaders the organization becomes a learning organization, which attracts and retains the best leaders, resulting in a leadership center in which followers are encouraged to grow.
You Admit Your Mistakes
People expect their leaders to get the job done by acting upon what they know and being honest by admitting when they do not know the answer. Being ethical is associated with being vulnerable. When the leader openly expresses his or her lack of ability or understanding they are the example that it is a safe environment where people are free to make mistakes and ask questions. Through the practice of setting his or her ego aside, the leader builds trust by demonstrating the competency of authentic leadership. Yes, they are “the real deal” as my son would say. An ethical leader has the ability to be genuine which provides followers a safety net to offer opinions and ideas as to how to get things done.
You Inspire Ethical Team Work
Organizing a team of experts requires the leadership skill of valuing team success over individual success. An ethical leader has the ability to take all the talents of those on the team (or in the family) and synergize them into a highly performing team that achieves extraordinary results. This is not an easy task. For instance, talented employees are often so good at what they do they bring their attitudes of individualism to work with them. Team member friction, as a result of combining experts together, may lead employees to voluntarily leave if the leader does not turn unproductive discussions into team synergy. People associate ethical leadership with a leader that has the ability to bring people together opposed to allowing cliques or employee (family) division. This leadership skill of blending individual achievement and community is associated with great leaders that build high-performing teams based on ethical principles.
You Run an Ethical Operation
Employees want to work for organizations that are ethical. Ethical operations includes hiring ethical, talented people; promoting the most qualified based on their leadership skills and technical expertise; rewarding ethical performance results; and operating a culture of commitment by living the stated core values of the organization. Through the balance of talent and accountability the organization has the structural design to effectively achieve its goals and objectives in an ethical manner. A significant contributor to effectiveness is the adherence to a performance system that rewards those employees that contribute and provides consequences to those employees that do not.
You Have Guiding Principles
A component of ethics is the principle of mutuality. When a relationship is productive both parties take responsibility for making the relationship work. From the workplace perspective this means that when an employer pays for an employee’s knowledge, in return the employee provides the organization the best possible work they are capable of. I like the ethical practices and principles of the W.L. Gore Company. The Gore Company is consistently known for being one of the top companies to work for. Their organization has practiced ethics as part of their business for many years. The company bases its business philosophy on the belief that given the right environment, there’s no limit to what people can accomplish. Gore associates operate according to four basic principles:
- Fairness to each other and everyone with whom we come in contact
- Freedom to encourage, help, and allow other associates to grow in knowledge, skill, and scope of responsibility
- The ability to make one’s own commitments and keep them
- Consultation with other associates before undertaking actions that could impact the reputation of the company
Are you interested in creating a code of ethics for your family or work team?
The following outline provides a forum to get started:
- Determine the purpose of the code. It is to inspire, create a code of conduct, a statement of values, or a foundation for creating expectations within a team?
- Think carefully about the process by which the code should be created. Who should be involved? How large of a group? What members should be included in the code development to help create an effective code and one that all members can buy-in to?
- How will the code be implemented? What steps need to be taken to ensure all members understand and know the guiding principles?
- A code of ethics should be tailored to the needs and values of the family or the organization. The Josephson Institute of Ethics suggests six “pillars of character” that could be utilized as a starting point for discussion when preparing to identify values to include in your ethics code. The six pillars are: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
- How will the code be followed? How will the code communicate accountability? How should the code be communicated so all members are expected to follow code expectations. How often should the code be revised or updated?
Now it’s Your Turn
Comment below on practices of ethical leaders or suggestions you have for increasing ethics at home or at work.
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