The pandemic has brought the volatile and uncertain world into turmoil and continues to challenge the socio-economic-political structures built by local and global leaders. Do ethical leadership and governance still play a role in this complex and ambiguous time? Does organizational change happen without ethical leadership?
Let’s look at leadership in different parts of the globe. We can see varied models based on the character, integrity, personality, and moral standards of the one leading and governing. People may define it according to the hierarchy, status, or title of the leaders they choose. Leadership, however, is not about these bragging rights or wealth accumulation. It is about connecting with people from all levels of interaction and about having influence and mastering change. It is about people and engaging them at multiple levels.
Ethics is a vast field of study that really addresses one simple question: How should we live our lives? We act the way we do and become the type of person we are because that is what our family, culture, and religion expect of us. In a tradition that stretches back to the ancient Greeks, questions of ethics, what we should do, can be answered by appeal to ethos, what we are expected to do. Ethos is the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.
Ethics seeks a reasoned analysis of custom and a reasoned defense of how we should live. It requires us to abstract ourselves from what is normally or typically done and reflect upon whether or not what is done should be done and whether what is valued should be valued. Ethics is at the center of leadership because the goal of a rational leader is to merge the interests of all parties so that everyone benefits and the organization prospers.
How can a leader be ethical?
More practical considerations include being honest and trustworthy. Leaders without integrity in dealing with others fall short of what is expected of them. An ethical leader pays attention to the individual and all his organizational stakeholders to build the community. They accomplish silent victories that help individuals aspire to do good work that matters to their colleagues, companies, and societies.
Ethical leaders behave ethically, too, because they establish a moral compass and adhere to ethical values. Self-reflections and self-tests are employed to check on oneself. They also ask mentors to comment on one’s ethical behavior, act quickly to confront the unethical behavior of others and make responsible decisions. These are reflective of the leader’s mindfulness.
Leaders begin with a fair and accurate understanding of the situation, as ethical issues often involve complicated and emotionally charged situations. Uncovering the facts and attaining an unbiased and complete understanding can be more complex than it sounds.
How do ethical leaders make decisions?
First, ethical leaders identify the ethical issues at stake. Often, people disagree over whether or not a particular case is an ethical case at all. Others look at the situation from an economic or legal view, while some would view the situation as an ethical or moral issue. What is important is to explain what makes an issue ethical to proceed in decision-making.
Second, identify the people affected by the situation and understand how they might be affected. Questions like who are the stakeholders in a decision? How will they be harmed or benefited? What will the likely consequences be? What is owed to the various stakeholders? are relevant in considering the effects of a decision on others.
Third, consider alternative courses of action. Explore a wide range of choices and values and how one’s decision will be interpreted from another perspective. As you approach a decision, step back and ask yourself how your decision will stand up to public scrutiny. Transparency is often a good test for responsible decision-making.
Fourth, choose a course of action after understanding the facts, considering all stakeholders, and thinking about alternatives. Responsible decision-making requires us to monitor the results and learn from them. Responsible decision-making is an iterative process: think–choose–act–think.
How do ethical leaders act?
Moreover, ethical leaders do specific actions that inspire constituents and push for organizational change. They provide strategic leadership to the organization and create a pleasant workforce. They conduct an environmental audit and help build a sustainable environment where people are and feel safe. They engage in philanthropy and work with suppliers to improve working conditions in their workplace.
They establish written Codes of Ethical Conduct jointly developed by the stakeholders and institute formal mechanisms for dealing with ethical problems. They respect and accept Whistleblowers, find out the truth and provide training in Ethics and Social Responsibility for all concerned. They place the company interests over personal interests. Bill Donahue summarizes these succinctly when he says, “A leadership strategy without ethical clarity produces moral and economic bankruptcy.”
May our leaders adhere to an ethical path to achieve authentic change at the personal and organizational levels.
Dr. Ma. Paquita D. Bonnet is the Chairperson of the Department of Management and Organization of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business at De La Salle University. You can contact her at email@example.com.
The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.