4 Pillars of Ethical Leadership

Ethical Leadership

In the ever-evolving landscape of leadership, one quality stands as an unwavering foundation: ethics. Ethical leadership goes beyond achieving goals and managing teams; it centers on upholding principles of integrity, honesty, and accountability. In a world that demands transparency and values authenticity, ethical leadership emerges as a guiding light, illuminating the path to building trust, fostering collaboration, and achieving sustainable success. In this blog post, we delve into the essence of ethical leadership, its significance in contemporary workplaces, and how it shapes an environment of trust and integrity.

Ethical leadership transcends the transactional nature of management, prioritizing the well-being of both individuals and the collective whole. It involves aligning actions and decisions with a strong moral compass, considering not only the immediate outcomes but also the long-term impact on stakeholders. Ethical leaders lead by example, exhibiting behaviors that reflect honesty, fairness, and respect for all. Their decisions are rooted in a commitment to doing what’s right, even when faced with challenging situations or difficult choices.

Lead by Example

Ethical leadership starts with your own actions. Model the behaviors and values you want to see in your team, and consistently uphold ethical standards. Teammates should never see you taking shortcuts, going back on your word, being involved in areas which are potential conflicts of interest, or failing to take responsibility for things for which were your fault. There are numerous other ethical standards, too many to list. The point is, as Warren Buffet said it takes 20 years to build your reputation, and 5 minutes to destroy it. Do not make an ethical concession for a temporary gain, even once or all of the social capital you worked years to build can be gone in an instant.

“It takes 20 years to build your reputation, and five minutes to destroy it.”

~Warren Buffet~

Safe-Zone for Mistakes and Open Discussion

Create an environment where open dialogue is encouraged. Encourage team members to voice concerns and ethical dilemmas without fear of repercussions. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates and author of the groundbreaking book Principles, outlines his vision he used to create a culture of “radical transparency.” This concept allowed him to share openly with employees struggles, wins, losses, and direction of the company. He recorded every meeting and made all of them available to all employees from vice president to custodian (with the exception of employee medical issues or other sensitive matters of that nature).

He claims in so doing he created a culture where everyone was open about their mistakes, struggles and areas they needed to improve. He systematized making an environment of trust and was open with employees even when the outlook was grim. This also ensured everyone operated in an ethical way. There were no pithy backroom discussions, no secret plans or layoffs. Nothing came as a surprise to anyone in the organization, because of this concept of radical transparency. This fostered a tremendous amount of trust and ethical behavior at every level of the organization.

Despite all of Bridgewater’s financial success, Dalio considers the creation of this culture one of his greatest achievements. “Princples” by Ray Dalio is absolutely on our list of 100 books you must read as a leader!

Ethical Decision-Making

Insist your team create a process of ethical decision-making, which involves considering the potential consequences (2nd and 3rd order consequences), consulting others, and reflecting on how the decision aligns with the organization’s values.

There are, of course, many views on ethics and many schools of thoughts on ethics. Many disagree on significant matters, however most are in agreement ethics can be loosely boiled down to a somewhat simple concept; do that which maximizes benefit for the most, and or minimizes harm for the most. Now, there’s going to be some large disagreement on which course of action maximizes benefit, or minimizes harm. But as long as we can agree on the goal of ethical decision-making those discussions can be worked through.

Despite there being disagreement, I think we can all agree that CEOs lining their pockets with millions in bonuses while laying off thousands is not congruent with this idea of ethical. Simon Sinek addresses this point extensively in his book “Leaders Eat Last.”

Here’s a fun thought experiment. Is it unethical to create green paint? The question seems simple enough. Intuitively no. However, the actual answer is “it depends.” If you are on a remote desert island and the only plant which can be used to create green pigment for paint comes from a plant which is also a powerful antiseptic, and is vital for the health of the indigenous people of the island, then one could make the argument creating green paint is unethical in that environment. So the point is, what may be ethical in some parts of the world, may not be ethical in others. The environment largely determines the answer to a lot of these ethical questions. Ethical answers is not a one-size fits all, in all cases. Remember that when making decisions in an organization.

Continuous Learning

Pursuant to that last point, make a commitment to stay updated on evolving ethical challenges in your industry. For example, although horizontal fracking solved a lot of problems and increased oil production around the world, it created some unexpected environmental problems. The ethical and moral landscape changes along with our technology, values, and progress as a society.

We are more globally connected now than we have ever been. Our choices have a much greater chance of impacting people across the world than it ever has before. For this reason, one should be committed to keep a very close eye on evolving ethical considerations when practicing business. To do this ensure you provide resources and training to help you and your team navigate complex ethical situations.

In a world that increasingly values transparency, ethical leadership stands as a beacon of authenticity and integrity. By embodying ethical principles and fostering an environment where trust, respect, and accountability thrive, leaders lay the groundwork for not only their own success but also the success of their teams and organizations. Ethical leadership is a journey that requires constant self-reflection, learning, and a commitment to doing what’s right—even when it’s not the easiest path. As you embark on your leadership journey, remember that the decisions you make and the values you uphold shape the future of your team, your organization, and the greater community.

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Erik Murrah

Author, nerd, chess player, artist, business owner, runner, mediocre philosopher, outdoorsman. Creator of the Arise Tribe.

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