Ethical Leadership: Is it in you?

Robert DeLeon, Scottsdale Leadership Class 25

Everyday media headlines tell us about leaders in society struggling with leadership issues and people questioning their integrity or ethics.  A lot of discussion on the issue is being labeled as ethical leadership.  Why are there numerous examples of leaders not setting the example, at least according to the media?  Who has the moral high ground on ethical leadership, democrats or republicans, pro life or pro choice, capitalist or socialists?  The list could go on and on.

What is ethical leadership?  A newsletter article by Edward Freeman and Lisa Stewart, “Developing Ethical Leadership”, stood out and helped answer the question.  It states that society typically describes ethical leadership as an executive with good character, one that sets the example for others to follow.  However, it goes on to say that it is not that simple.  It describes the characteristics of ethical leadership as being complex and having multiple components.

According to the article ethical leaders (a) Walk the talk and instill it in the organization, (b) Put the company first before themselves, (c) Find people with integrity to hire and develop, (d) Make ethics and values part of the conversation everyday, (e) Allow and encourage challenges to leadership, (f) Look for the good in others, (g) Make tough choices, allowing innovative remedies, (h) Understand values have their limits based on the situation, (i) Know the impacts of their actions to others and the organization, and (j) Allow people to learn and grow, making mistakes all in the context of organizational growth.

On the surface it appears to be a simple process, a recipe for success.  But, if it is so simple, why can it be difficult to succeed?  I believe a vast majority of people in leadership roles show up to work everyday wanting to succeed, not fail and lead people in a positive way.  However, from time to time we all need reminders.

In my opinion, ethical leadership has two important beginning points.  First of all, we assume or expect that all of us have the same set of values, expectations.  Yet, people are split essentially down the middle on many issues?  Are half of the leaders of each issue without ethical leadership or wrong?  This polarization of many facets of society is at times sobering.  Whether it is religion, politics, executive pay, profit, shareholder interests, each side has a position that seems to be rigid and less tolerant.  The key is to understand the viewpoints of others and know each has valid reasons for their positions and bring value with their diversity of insights.

The second point is how we develop ourselves.  In the case of ethical leadership what has been done to ensure we walk the talk?  Did we read an article or take a class that gave us the recipe for success?  Freeman has eight questions everyone should ask themselves to become an ethical leader.  There is one key question and subsequent response that relate to defining the ethical leadership in us.  If you were asked about any situation or issue at work related to your behavior, would your response instinctively include some component of ethical leadership?  This is the real life indicator of ethical leadership.

Ethical leadership, is it in you?  I leave you with a thought.  Is what you consider your set of values and principles well defined and are they put on paper for all to see?  Based on this, how would you rate yourself on ethical leadership?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Ethical Leadership: Is it in you?

  1. Dana Sherman

    Great article Bob! Well done.

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