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“Good Leadership is Ethical Leadership”

Professor and author of ethics and leadership studies, Joanne Ciulla, made that statement some years ago.  It’s a great statement–short and to the point–about one of the building blocks of leadership.  I’ve used it a lot during discussions about ethics and leadership.

When I work with other leaders to help them become better ethical decision-makers, I use an approach I call the “3 P’s.”  Here’s what the “3 P’s” represent.”

  1. Process

  2. Perspective

  3. Person

Process refers to the method used to sort out all of the details of an ethical dilemma.  Whether it’s a decision that leaders must make for themselves or a decision they have to make that involves others, a good process helps to avoid a quick, emotional, knee-jerk response.  Instead, working through a more rational, step-by step process (if there is enough time) gives leaders an approach that helps them think more clearly about what is going on.  A basic five-step technique for doing so can look like this:

  1. Identify the nature of the ethical dilemma

  2. Sort out the “relevant” facts

  3. Consider alternatives to resolve the ethical dilemma

  4. Choose and implement the chosen alternative

  5. Follow-up to evaluate the effectiveness of the decision

Process, though, does not by itself answer the question, “What is the ethical thing to do–What is right and what is wrong?” regarding the resolution of an ethical dilemma.  That’s where the next P comes in.

Perspective refers to the ethical values or principles that leaders are committed to when making ethical decisions.  It is the belief system and the set of standards–the ethical framework–that leaders apply when answering the question, “What is the right decision?”

Ethical Leaders must know and be able to articulate their ethical perspective.  They must seriously consider what are those core values that inform their ethical frame of reference.  Without such a perspective, ethical leadership is impossible.

Still, though, leaders can have in place an effective process and ethical perspective and yet fall short.  It’s the third P that completes the means for making quality ethical decisions.

Person focuses on leaders as moral agents.  It refers to the capacity of leaders to act morally when faced with an ethical dilemma.  This capacity includes:

  1. The ability to “see” that an ethical dilemma exists in a particular situation or decision context

  2. The capability to make a moral decision (This is the “perspective” dimension of moral agency)

  3. The desire or motivation to make an ethical decision (Do I really want to do this?)

  4. The will or courage to act ethically (The character of leaders to do the right thing)

Making quality ethical decisions is not easy.  Developing the capacity to increase the potential for making better ethical decisions doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes commitment and discipline to utilize a process, to cultivate and articulate a perspective, and to build the person in order to do so. 

Begin that journey today!

Jim Dittmar


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