Ethics in leadership seems to be a topic that comes up frequently. Unfortunately, the topic usually comes up when there has been a serious breach in ethics and a very senior individual has been removed from their position, or sometimes even ends up in jail. We often ask, “How did we get to the point where this happened?”
Like many of the things we have discussed, you can help yourself out by giving some thought ahead of time to the ethics you wish to promote. Ethics are something that should definitely be included in your personal leadership philosophy. This includes both the ethics you intend to hold yourself to as well as the ethics you will promote on your team. It certainly is easier when you can make these two things the same, but not always easy to achieve; especially if you lead a team that is part of a larger organization. In this case, a standard “code of ethics” is probably the foundation upon which you build your team’s ethics. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help define ethics in the framework of your leadership philosophy before you find yourself in the middle of an ethical dilemma:
What are the ethical principles that you wish to promote on your team? Integrity, accountability, respect, and loyalty are the ethical principles that we hear about the most. This is not an all inclusive list and you should develop your own list of ethical principles you expect from yourself and your team as part of your leadership philosophy.
What do the ethical principles on your list mean to you? While there are commonly accepted definitions of integrity, accountability, respect, etc., if you ask 10 people what these ideas mean to them, you’ll probably get 10 slightly different answers. As a leader, it is important you are clear with your team about what they mean to you and that you will be holding them to that standard.
How do you promote these ethics by exemplifying them? It’s not enough to simply communicate the ethical standard. Saying one thing and doing another at best sends mixed messages to your team and can do much more damage than that. As a mentor of mine whom I highly respect says, “Ethics are not just a poster you hang on the wall.” It’s critical that you live every day to the ethical standard you hold your team to.
What are the formal means you use to promote/enforce these ethics? What actions will you take when someone falls short of the ethical standard? What actions will you take when they exemplify the ethics you seek to promote? This is one we often forget. It’s often easy to react to a breach in ethical behavior, but we often forget to point out and reward behavior that holds those standards high.
What are the informal ways? While a budget meeting or presentation review seems pretty standard, there could be opportunities to discuss ethical considerations in the context of the task at hand. Topics could include presenting data objectively, recognizing the views of others who may disagree with the presented position, or clearly stating the disadvantages of the favored course of action. There are plenty of opportunities to promote ethics without having a formal training session.
Ethics can often be a thorny subject and my purpose here today is not to dictate to you what your ethical standard should be, but to encourage you to think about what ethical expectations you have for your team and then communicate to them and hold them to that standard. Working though this ahead of time can prevent the next ethical issue in the workplace from turning into a significant emotional event for you and your team.
What does your team discuss regarding the topic of ethics?