What happened to ethical leadership?

Ethical Leadership

What happened to ethical leadership?

I’ve noticed that ethical leadership has become a hot topic lately and I’m not surprised. There is a systemic tolerance for unethical practices in our largest organisations. Watch the nightly news to see what’s going on.

Look at the banking Royal Commission. It found a culture of greed running rampant through the banking world and it stemmed from the top.

Look at the Royal Commission into child abuse. It found institutional acceptance of the sexual abuse and mistreatment of children under their protection.

What about Lawyer X and the police informant process?

And let’s not even mention the sporting world.

What happened to ethical leadership?

People have had enough. Me included! We expected ethical leadership and didn’t get it. Now, we’re demanding it. It’s not enough to hold leaders accountable for their actions. We want ethical and moral leadership at work and in our organisations.

What is ethical leadership?

In simple terms, it means doing the right thing. Making leadership decisions based on your values. The problem is that sticking to your principles isn’t easy.

A few years ago, a UK study found:

  • 63% of managers report they have been asked to do something contrary to their own ethical code
  • 43% of managers report they have been told to behave in direct violation of their organisation’s value statement
  • 9% of managers have been asked to break the law

It’s no wonder that the Royal Commissions are uncovering so much dirt!

5 principles of ethical leadership.

Professor Peter Northouse identified five principles of ethical leadership.

  • Respect: Listen to your people. Consult them and consider their opinions. Respect those opinions even if they disagree with your own.
  • Honesty: Being honest about the situation, your thinking, your actions, and decisions. Sharing information openly with those who need it, such as your team members.
  • Justice: Being fair and transparent in your actions, even if no one is watching.
  • Community: Work as a cohesive team. Develop your people, coach them, and work together to build your small community. Extend your reach to help the broader community, too.
  • Integrity: Align your actions with your values. Stick to your word and be recognised for your honesty.

Ethical leadership must come from the top.

This has been the big fail lately. Management teams are either ignorant of what’s going on downline or they are an active part of it. Remember, turning a blind eye or failing to deal with them is condoning those actions.

It’s time for a shake-up but where do you start?

Vision and values.  Every organisation has them written down somewhere but then they are usually forgotten. It’s time to revisit them and make sure they are still accurate. Do they reflect the things you want your company to stand for?

Assess your organisation against them: Are you operating according to your values? Where are the gaps? Do people understand what they mean and how they should influence their actions?

Assess yourself against them: Would your team agree you’re following the values of the organisation? Remember that if you’re not comfortable with the vision and values, you’re in the wrong organisation!

Model the behaviour and attitudes you want to see: This is where transparency and visibility is critical. Be seen doing it and coach your people to follow on.

Audit your systems and processes: The way you work needs to support your values, not hinder them. What needs to change in your organisation?

Build in accountability: You can’t permit a breach of your values. There must be a way to hold yourself and your people accountable for doing the wrong thing. There must also be visible accountability for those who direct others to violate company values or break the law.

In a world which is as volatile as ours, ethical leadership is critical. There must be one thing your team can rely on and that’s your leadership. Without ethics in leadership, there will be no trust. Without trust there will be no team.

What are you doing to encourage ethical leadership in yourself and your organisation?

If you’re ready to work on your leadership skills, I can help you. Book a free Leadership Mastery Analysis with me and become the best leader you can be.

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Caroline Kennedy, author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished, award-winning CEO and global thought leader on business and leadership. She is a highly sought-after mentor and coach to top global executives. A respected keynote speaker and author, Caroline’s methods are neuroscience-based to achieve rapid development and growth.


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