Ethical Leadership: A new kind of poverty?

Every day we are bombarded with news about decisions made by leaders that cause us to question their integrity and ethics. So much so that we have banned the news in our home, especially after 7:00 p.m., to stave off the restlessness that comes with this kind of news and in the hopes of getting a sound night’s sleep!  We are facing a new kind of poverty – ethical leadership.


No matter what situation an organization finds itself in, it didn’t get there by chance, someone led it there. Organizations and their cultures are, therefore, shaped by the values and ethics of their leaders. Your decisions, whether ethical or unethical, send a powerful message throughout the organization.


Here are 7 tips to help you make ethical decisions, especially when the right decision seems difficult to make.


Practice “both-and” strategies with your values: Say, Our goal is to return great profits and maintain a high-quality product.” Statements like this will keep every employee in your organization focused on your values and will ultimately yield more positive outcomes. When you say, “Either we can make great profits or we can produce a high-quality product,” you send a message that you are willing to compromise one of your core values and, ultimately, your integrity.


Take a firm stand on your values: Ethical leaders demonstrate unwavering commitment to their beliefs and values. During problem-solving and decision-making discussions, stay the course, provide time, and encourage everyone to persevere until you have a plan that supports all of your values. Using your values and long-term goals as a compass will help you avoid poor decisions based on short-term gains at the expense of long-term implications; and your character will remain intact.


Weigh each option against your values: Lay out a range of options and determine the pros and cons of each possible decision in light of your core values. When you ensure your decisions meet the “values test” you are modeling a commitment to high ethical standards.


Be honest and transparent in all communication: People want to know the truth, even when the information is difficult to hear. Employees can make sound decisions if they know what they are dealing with. The minute you sugarcoat bad news or cover up critical information, you have not only breached the trust between you and members of your team, you have undermined their ability to make productive decisions.


Reward employees for speaking up and seek their honest input: Employees need to feel empowered with the knowledge that their leaders want them to tell the truth and do the right thing, even during difficult circumstances. Leaders are better able to make sound decisions when they know the truth. When employees sense their leaders don’t want to hear the truth, they also believe their leaders are willing to compromise their integrity.


Imagine the decision publicized: Imagine that the soundness of your decision is going to be highlighted on the cable news networks or written about in an internet blog. Will others consider your decision a sound one that will positively highlight your moral character?


Do the right thing: Once your analysis leads you to a values-based decision, take action and hold everyone accountable to the decision, even in the face of opposition.  When it comes to doing the right thing, honesty and full disclosure will seldom be the wrong call. Remember the words of John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA. “In life, there is a choice you need to make in everything you do…so keep in mind that in the end the choices you make, make you!”


What are the leadership values that guide your organizational decisions? You have a choice, and what you choose to value will ultimately determine your leadership legacy. Set high standards, walk your talk, and live by your values. The security of your position depends on it.

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