Ethical leadership has become the “in thing” over the last decade or two. From the media attention surrounding ethical behavior in business leaders, to academic research finding a link between ethical leadership and positive organizational outcomes, such as lower turnover rates and higher employee satisfaction, the topic seems to be everywhere. That said, what exactly does it mean to be an ethical leader? And what strategies should we follow to ensure our leadership practices are truly ethical?
There are numerous definitions of ethical leadership. For example, some suggest that ethical leadership involves being honest, trustworthy, fair, respectful, and compassionate. Others define ethical leadership as having integrity, honesty, empathy, and altruism. Still others focus on moral character and high standards of conduct. Regardless of these differences, the underlying premise is clear – ethical leadership is important to organizations and their employees.
Leaders who exhibit ethical behaviors tend to enjoy greater success than those who don’t. In addition, studies show that ethical leaders generate better performance from followers and promote positive organizational outcomes. The bottom line is that ethical leadership matters, and it pays off.
Ethics is a key component of leadership because without ethical character, leaders cannot lead effectively. Leaders must make decisions based on what is right rather than what might benefit them personally. This means taking responsibility for our actions and making sure we do nothing unethical.
Leaders who behave unethically fail to serve those under their care and instead exploit them. Unethical behavior hurts everyone involved, including the person leading. Even when an individual doesn’t intend to harm others, unethical behaviors often result in hurt feelings, broken trust, and damaged reputations.
It’s easy to fall prey to unethical behavior when we feel pressured. Pressure can come from a variety of sources, such as internal expectations (e.g., “I’m expected to meet my goals”) or external pressures (e.g., deadlines). When pressure builds, it becomes difficult to separate personal interests from organizational ones.
A leader must resist the temptation to engage in unethical behavior even though it may seem convenient. Instead, he or she must carefully weigh the pros and cons of each decision. Doing so helps ensure that the organization makes sound decisions, which protects its integrity and reputation.
In addition, the best leaders are aware of how their own behavior affects others. By observing themselves and listening to feedback, they learn more about themselves and improve their skills. As a result, they become more effective leaders.
The following three questions help us identify whether or not someone is behaving ethically: 1) Do you observe yourself acting in ways that are consistent with your values? 2) Are there times when you feel tempted to act dishonestly? 3) Have you noticed any situations where you’ve been unable to control your impulses?
If you answer ‘yes’ to these questions, you probably aren’t living out the ethics code of conduct that you’ve developed. However, if you answered ‘no,’ don’t despair; you have much room to grow. With practice, you’ll eventually master the art of ethical leadership.
Being an ethical leader isn’t easy. That’s because there’s nothing more important than integrity. It’s about how you treat people and how you act when no one is watching.
Ethical leadership means acting with honesty and trustworthiness, treating everyone fairly, and having the courage to make decisions for the greater good.
It also means keeping promises and following through on commitments, making sure your actions align with your words, and setting standards for business practices that will benefit both employees and customers alike.
Leadership requires self-awareness and empathy, which come primarily from listening to and understanding those around you. When you listen well, you learn what motivates them and why they behave the way they do.
You learn what matters most to them, and you become aware of the impact you have on their lives. From there you can find ways to help improve their experience and increase performance.
Leaders who demonstrate integrity, respect, fairness, and accountability inspire others to follow the same principles. If they’re not careful, however, unethical leaders may reap short term rewards while hurting long term relationships.
Ethical leadership is about doing what you say you are going to do, rather than just saying it. This is why it is important to set clear expectations and standards within your organization. When employees know what behaviours are expected of them, they feel empowered to act accordingly. Employees will also respect you more because they know where they stand.
In addition, ethical leaders build trust among their teams by being honest and transparent. They communicate openly and honestly with everyone, including customers, suppliers, partners, shareholders, and even themselves. By demonstrating integrity, ethical leaders demonstrate that they care about others, and that they are trustworthy. In turn, people want to work for them.
Investors look to see whether a company stands behind its values and principles, and ethical leadership helps companies achieve this. An investor might ask questions like: “What does the CEO believe in?” “How does he behave towards his colleagues?” “Does the company support diversity?” “Is there a code of conduct?” These questions help potential investors understand how well the business operates according to its stated beliefs.
A strong reputation for ethical behaviour attracts more investors. If a firm demonstrates good corporate citizenship, it becomes easier for investors to predict future performance. Investors like knowing that a company is committed to behaving ethically, and that it treats stakeholders fairly.
Being an ethical leader takes thoughtlessness and consideration. Ethical leadership involves treating people with equal respect. Ethical leaders are always seeking out ways to improve themselves and their companies. They communicate openly, manage stress well, and mediate fairly in disputes. Ethical leaders treat others with respect and compassion, helping them solve problems and make decisions together. Being an ethical leader is all about treating others with respect. This includes being fair and resolving conflict in a way that benefits both parties.
Being an ethical leader is different than being a boss or a supervisor. You are responsible for leading people who do things differently than you. In many cases, you don’t even know what those differences are. Ethical leadership requires understanding ethics and acting ethically. Ethics and integrity are key components of good leadership. If you want to lead others well, you must understand ethics and act accordingly.
Leaders must align ethical values throughout an entire organization. This includes everyone from the CEO down to the entry level employee. Everyone needs to feel comfortable doing the right thing. When employees see that you’re willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them, they’ll follow suit.
Ethics is about making choices based on principles rather than personal gain. Sometimes it’s difficult to discern whether something is ethical or unethical. But there are some basic guidelines to help you decide. For example, if you ask yourself “Is this fair?”, “Does this benefit my team?”, and “Will I regret this decision later?”, then you’re probably thinking like an ethical person.
Values are universal truths that guide you through life. They help you make decisions and determine actions. For example, you might value honesty because it helps you build trust and maintain relationships. You might value freedom because it allows you to pursue your passions. Or maybe you value family because it makes you want to give back to others. Whatever your values are, defining them and making sure everyone knows about them will help you create a strong sense of self and purpose.
When you communicate your values, you show employees that you care about them and respect them. This builds a positive atmosphere where people can do their best work. It also gives you something to hold onto when times get tough.
Your values aren’t just words; they become real when you put them into action. If you don’t act on your values, they won’t mean anything. So, take some time to think about your values and figure out how you can bring them to life every day.
If you tell one person your values are integrity, hard work, and teamwork, and another person hears those same three things, he or she will assume you meant integrity, hard work, teamwork. And if you say different things to different people, you lose credibility.
Values are important in any organization. They set the tone for how employees interact with each other and what they believe is right and wrong. A great way to ensure that you hire people who share your values is to interview those candidates who seem like they could be a good fit. If you don’t know what values are, check out our guide here.
Hiring people who share your core values will help you build a strong team. Employees who share your values will likely respect one another and treat each other fairly. This creates an environment where everyone feels respected and valued.
People want to work for organizations that share their values. Research conducted by Gallup found that people prefer working for companies that share their values over companies that do not. In fact, Gallup found that 70% of Americans say it is very important to find a job that aligns with their personal values.
How does culture fit play into recruitment decisions? Culture fit plays a huge role in whether or not you make a candidate an offer. You’re probably familiar with the saying “people join companies, not jobs,” meaning that you shouldn’t focus too much on the job description. Instead, look at the person behind the resume. Would he or she feel comfortable working alongside you?
If you think that a potential candidate doesn’t share your values, there are things that you can do to improve your chances of landing him or her. For example, you might consider offering flexible hours, allowing telecommuting, or providing paid vacation days. These perks show that you value the individual and his or her well-being.
Leaders must listen to employees. While it might seem like a no-brainer, many companies still don’t do enough to foster open communication. In fact, research conducted by Gallup found that just 30% of workers say their managers regularly communicate openly with them about important issues. This lack of transparency makes employees less likely to trust their bosses. And without trust, there’s little chance of loyalty.
Open communication builds trust because people understand what others think and why they’re acting the way they are. They’ll see that you care about their opinions and ideas. So, make sure you’re communicating openly with your team members. You’ll gain respect and loyalty.
Leaders should follow both their personal values as well as the organizational values.
Ask yourself the following questions to see if that’s true for you:
Recognizing biases helps leaders understand themselves better and how they impact others. Leaders who are aware of what they do unconsciously can make decisions based on fairness and impartiality rather than personal preference. This leads to treating people fairly and being seen as a leader who is fair and unbiased. In turn, people want to work for leaders like this.
Leading by example starts from the very top. If you want your organization to follow ethical standards, you must lead by example. You must show your people what behavior looks like.
Ethical leadership doesn’t mean being perfect. In fact, there are many times when we make mistakes. But our actions speak louder than words. We can’t preach values unless we practice them ourselves.
The best way to teach someone something is to show them. So let’s start showing our employees how we conduct ourselves. Let’s show them what ethical leadership looks like.
When you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, acknowledge what happened, apologize, and move forward. This can help you avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
Take responsibility for your actions. If you are responsible for something, own up to it. When you do something wrong, say “I’m sorry,” and accept full responsibility. You’ll feel better about yourself, and you might even learn something from the situation.
Don’t let others blame you for problems caused by someone else. We’ve all been there—someone tells us we did something wrong, and we start feeling guilty. But if we’re truly innocent, we shouldn’t worry too much about being blamed for someone else’s behavior.
Admit when you’re wrong. People often try to cover up their mistakes because they think they’ll look stupid. But admitting when you’re wrong isn’t just good for your self-esteem; it’s also helpful for those around you. Admitting your mistakes helps people see you as trustworthy and honest.
Create a crisis management plan. Before things go wrong, develop a plan for how you want to handle situations when things go awry. For example, you could write down some questions you’d like to ask yourself during a crisis, such as: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? How can I improve my decision-making process?
What happens next? Once you know what you’re supposed to do, follow through. If you decide to speak up about something, stick to your guns. If you make a mistake, stop and correct it immediately. And if you find yourself in a difficult situation, remember that no one expects perfection, so don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Ethical leadership is about doing good things even if no one notices or rewards you for them. You don’t need a big ego to lead ethically, because there are plenty of examples of great ethical leaders who made big impacts on society. You just need to find them and learn from them. Here are seven ways to do that.
a. Look at history.
The best way to understand ethics is to look at history. Read books, watch documentaries, and listen to podcasts. Learn how different cultures handled issues like slavery, war, poverty, and environmental destruction. Study the lives of famous historical figures and see how they lived and led.
b. Pay attention to real life.
Real life is full of stories about people making decisions and leading others. Watch movies, read novels, and keep up with current events. Notice what makes some people successful and others fail, and why.
c. Follow the news.
News outlets report on the actions of politicians, celebrities, businesses, and organizations. They cover wars, natural disasters, sports competitions, and everything else. Keep track of the latest headlines and pay close attention to the trends.
Ethical leadership helps build positive cultures within organizations, preventing scandals and increasing customer loyalty. Those who follow ethical leaders experience better work environments, and those who work for unethical leaders feel like they don’t fit in, which reduces productivity.
According to research conducted by Gallup, companies that exhibit high levels of ethical behavior see employee morale rise, and turnover rates decrease. In addition, studies show that customers are more loyal to businesses where ethics are valued.
Doing the right thing, even if it isn’t popular or easy, requires strength of character and commitment.
First identify your company’s core value and your own. Then train yourself to spot ethical dilemas. Finally, assess the situations and ask for advice when necessary.
Actions speak louder than words, so be sure to follow through on your beliefs and you’ll encourage others to do the same.