E stands for Ethics.
1. Ethics is about more than finances and process; it’s about the treatment of people.
2. Ethics stems from character and virtue.
3. Standards and values must be lived, not just discussed.
The first “E” in the L.E.A.D.E.R.S. Model refers to ethics and the ethical values and behavior of leaders and their organizations. This is a major problem in today’s society and workplace and is foundational to successful leadership according the to the L.E.A.D.E.R.S. Model.
Leaders sustain and maintain ethical organizational behavior not just by seeking legal compliance among employees to a “set of ethical standards.” More importantly, they build a culture that embeds into the organizational DNA, the ethical standards and behaviors that are integral to the conduct of its business. Ethics is the linchpin for any successful leadership and will be undone by unethical behavior.
Frequently, when unethical behavior in the workplace is made public, it has to do with individuals who have engaged in some sort of financial misdeed. “Cooking the books,” insider trading, stealing from the company, or price-fixing are just some of the misdeeds that make the news when unethical behavior is reported. We’re amazed, shocked, and in disbelief when a “good” person is found out to have done some bad things in a “good” company. We usually attribute it to faulty strategy, or incorrect service or product design, but seldom look at the ethical underpinnings of the leadership team or corporate culture.
Unfortunately, what is often left out of these conversations in the workplace is the much more common occurrence of unethical behavior that involves the mistreatment of employees. Every day, in one organization after another, employees at all levels are exploited, manipulated, mishandled, and even bullied by supervisors, peers, and other co-workers. Poor leadership, especially when it pertains to the treatment of others, is unethical leadership. The L.E.A.D.E.R.S. Model focuses on that particular aspect of unethical behavior.
Leaders must take several steps if they are to create and maintain a healthy ethical perspective and climate for themselves and their organization. First, they clearly identify and justify the standards from which ethical behavior will be established. This means that leaders communicate frequently what those standards are and what qualifies as ethical behavior.
Next, leaders make certain that each person in their organization is accountable to behave according to those standards. This is key to creating a culture in which ethical behavior is the norm. Such a culture exists when it’s clear to everyone that “this is how we [ethically] do business here.” When unethical behavior occurs, leaders make certain that it is dealt with quickly, justly, and compassionately.
Third, leaders model those standards in their own behavior. Behaving ethically is the first and most important requirement for effective leadership. Character becomes transparent as leaders live out the personal qualities that reflect the ethical expectations they have put in place. Leaders make sure they are accountable in the same manner as are all members of the organization. Obviously, when leaders are not held to this same standard, trust goes out the window and is replaced with skepticism and cynicism.
Finally, leaders develop a “moral imagination.” In this case, leaders become very sensitive and aware of situations that are potentially unethical. Decisions are made not just on the basis of how to “do business.” Rather, each set of circumstances is examined for any ethical and moral implications that may be present. Particularly when employees are affected, leaders insist that such decisions take into full account any possible unethical outcomes or treatment.
Ethical leadership takes courage. It takes courage for leaders to establish the standards of ethical behavior, to see that these standards are espoused and maintained throughout the organization, to hold themselves to the same standard, and to insist that all circumstances are viewed through the lens of those standards. Be courageous…be ethical.
Dr. James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute which began in 2014.