Ethics and Leadership – Doing the right thing

Admiral Mike McMullen, chief of staff for the US criticised the US policy of ‘strategic communication’.

He said:

“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don’t follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are”

This was such an insightful statement and really gets to the heart of the ethical nature of leadership.

One of the most important parts of a leader’s behaviour is to demonstrate congruence between thought, words and action. Unfortunately, the practice of agreeing one thing and doing another, to achieve a ‘strategic’ objective is now gaining significant traction, especially in business leadership. The phrase ‘business is business’ is now seemingly an acceptable excuse for acting without integrity. This can slide into corrupt leadership.

Congruence also relies on a strong code of ethics and beliefs in the first place. Some leaders rely on a spiritual dimension for this, others a more humanistic approach with solid values which will determine the reference points for their actions. Others have very few values, using the principle ‘the end justifies the means’.

What business leaders need to be aware of is that they are responsible for setting the moral compass of the organisation they lead, by defining set of reference values for all, which must be embedded into the way in which the companies and employees act – from top to bottom. These values must go beyond their legal and contractual responsibilities as an organisation.

Trust and respect are only earned over time, yet can be lost in a careless instant. Integrity and ethics have never been more important issues for leaders. And in a more cynical, less deferential, world, leaders who do not walk the talk, who do not act as they wish their followers to act, can find that they no longer have any followers.

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