What Are Ethics
The ability of individuals to be ethical lies at the heart of competent leadership. Ethics do not rest on absolute principles, but reasonable workplace guidelines for ethical action can be developed and used. The basic premise concerns (and balances) the good of others and not just individuals. Leadership thus is a blend of competence (job knowledge, skills) and character (high integrity, moral responsibility).
Ethics in the Workplace
An organization’s ethical code of conduct guides policies, practices, and decision-making by specifying (1) what is good and bad about moral obligations, (2) a set of accepted moral principles and values, (3) a theory or system of moral principles governing individual and group behavior, and (4) a morality code. The terms surrounding ethics are loaded with ambiguity, have different meanings for different people, and raise more complicating questions. However, the reputation of individuals and organizations is based on trust and integrity. Top leaders must set the tone and model ethical behavior to embed ethics in the organization culture, create a trust environment (easily destroyed), and require ongoing ethical behavior.
Perception: Its Limitations
Individual paradigms (worldviews, the basis of perception) are by nature limited and incomplete, so people must take care to avoid making decisions based only on their own points of view and perspectives.
Perspective: Its Importance
People see what they believe, so shared perspectives can enhance organizations, creating the possibility of open channels of communication, opportunities for deep collaboration, and thus an environment of trust.
Principles: A Foundational Network
Organizations must create and work from a consistent framework of foundational principles (impersonal, factual, objective, self-evident natural laws) versus values (personal, emotional, subjective, arguable social norms). Literature in the field identifies six foundational principles: trustworthiness, honesty, and personal integrity (most important); responsibility for self; freedom of thought and choice; equitableness, justice, and fairness; respect and caring for others; and respect for human rights and dignity.
Practical Questions: A Tool for Decision-Making
To address any ethical issue or dilemma in the organization, the literature supports ten relevant issues:
(1) define the dilemma or problem; (2) assess legality (civil law, organizational policy); (3) define problem from opposing view; (4) identify conflicting values and organizational principles; (5) consider alternative courses of action; (6) identify consequences and risks of options; (7) discuss with affected parties if possible; (8) assess balance and fairness of solution in short and long term; (9) ask whether disclosure of proposed action would be damaging; and (10) make a decision and communicate it.
Processes: Strategies for Increasing Awareness and Improving the Ethical Climate
The author lists strategies (e.g., hotline, code of conduct, advisory committee) that can be used and widely publicized to explain policies and practices, further demonstrate organizational commitment to ethical behavior, and create an ethical environment and trust. However, ethical management depends on the character of leadership, perceived fairness, and the reputation that a leader and team earn over time.