Leading with ethics

Being an ethical leader is about more than just having strong values

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Business News Daily

There is a clear difference between being a boss and being a leader. Where a boss orders, a leader guides; a boss manages, a leader inspires. The difference lies in how you make your team feel and how you view your relationship with them. A good leader sees it as their responsibility to inspire, guide and nurture their team to help them improve; they lead by example.

“In today’s transparent, social-media-driven world senior executives, especially those with a high profile, will be tested and called to task over their morals and ethics in how they do business,” said Shane Green, author of Culture Hacker. “This used to be more focused on business practices but is now shifting [to] leadership practices. Businesses, and their leaders, are under a microscope. How they act, and interact, with those around them professionally will have a significant impact on their ability to attract new talent and, ultimately, their bottom lines.” 

Ethical leadership is defined as ‘Leadership that is directed by respect for ethical beliefs and values, and for the dignity and rights of others’. It is mainly concerned with moral development and virtuous behaviour. 

As Heather R. Younger, founder and CEO of Employee Fanatix, put it, “An ethical leader is someone who lives and dies for integrity. Doing the right thing, even when it hurts, is the ethical leader’s mantra.” 

What is ethical leadership?

Ethical leadership involves leaders demonstrating appropriate conduct both inside and outside of the office. Ethical leaders demonstrate good values through their words and actions. According to the Harvard Business Review, ethical leaders will not overlook wrongdoing, even in cases when doing so may benefit their organisations. Showing integrity, and doing what’s right, are at the core of being an ethical leader; they set the example for the rest of the organisation.

Importance of being an ethical leader

Ethical leadership is a management style that works for any organisation. These are the top benefits for an organisation that relies on ethical leadership.

Positive culture: team morale improves when people work for an ethical leader. Ethical leaders have the capacity to inspire those working with them to perform at their peak and staff don’t feel as if they are helping a corrupt person earn even more money..

Improved brand image: ethical leaders of an organisation should show the best that their brand has to offer.

Loyalty: teams are more likely to remain loyal to companies that appoint ethical leaders.

Improved emotional well-being: workplace stress can hurt productivity levels in an organisation. If leadership is toxic, efficiency will decrease.

While this may all sound lofty, it’s more attainable than you might think. Here’s how to become an ethical leader.

Define and align your values

Consider the morals you were raised with – treat others how you want to be treated, always say ‘Thank you’, help those who are struggling, etc – however, as you grow, and as society progresses, conventions change, often causing values to shift.

“This is the biggest challenge ethics face in our culture, and at work, and is the biggest challenge ethical leadership faces,” says Matthew Kelly, founder and CEO of Floyd Consulting and author of The Culture Solution. “What used to be universally accepted as good and true, right and just, is now up for considerable debate. This environment of relativism makes it very difficult for values-based leaders.”

Matthew adds that, in order to find success in ethical leadership, you should demonstrate how adhering to specific values benefits the mission of the organisation. “Culture is not a collection of personal preferences,” he says. “Mission is king – when that ceases to be true, an organisation has begun its journey toward the mediocre middle.”

Ask yourself what matters to you as an individual, and then align this with your priorities as a leader. Defining your values not only expresses your authenticity but also encourages your teams to do the same, creating a shared vision for all workers.

Appoint people with similar values

While your values don’t need to be identical to those of your workers, you should be able to establish common ground with them. This often starts with the hiring process and is maintained through a vision statement.

“I do not believe that every person is a fit for every organisation, and that’s okay,” Shane Green explains. “Organisations need to do a better job of ensuring they find people who are aligned with their values rather than just hiring for experience.” In fact, Matthew believes it’s valuable to appoint team members who have different experiences and perspectives because they each offer their own solutions to challenges.

“But, when it comes to values, I think having and appointing people who share your values is critical,” he says. “Nobody wants to work for somebody who doesn’t share their values. Without mutual respect, it is very difficult to form a dynamic team, and most people find it very difficult to respect someone who doesn’t share their values.”

Promote open communication

Every employee is different, even if they share similarities. With each decision you make, be transparent and encourage feedback from your team. This helps you become a better leader and helps your workers feel more confident about sharing their ideas or concerns.

“I believe that one of the important responsibilities for the modern organisation is to create an environment where open communication is encouraged and, more importantly, where people are listened to,” Shane says. “We are seeing a lot of employees calling on their companies to change policies, drop customers or take a stand on current issues.

“Organisations cannot bend to every employee’s demands but what they do need to start doing is creating forums where team can share their viewpoints, feel they are listened to, and receive follow-up explaining why certain things can or cannot happen.”

Gathering feedback from your team helps you improve as a leader and propels your business forward. “Management is all about the people,” Alain Gazaui, CEO of InteliKINECT, points out. “Understanding where they come from is crucial.”

Remain transparent in all your business dealings. Never lie or mislead others for the benefit of the business or yourself and keep team and associates ‘in the loop’ about all dealings. For example, if your organisation must downsize, let staff know far in advance.

Beware of bias

Many of us have beliefs, subconscious or otherwise, that are outdated or erroneous. No leader wants to admit to their flaws, but failure to practice self-awareness can have detrimental consequences.

“Everyone has bias but, for the longest time, we were not called out on it because we were never really challenged,” Shane says. “Now that the workforce is more diverse…some unexposed biases are being called out. Managers need to…look at themselves and be honest that they do, in fact, have biases that may impinge on another person feeling comfortable at work.”

If you are an open-minded leader, you will build and maintain better relationships with your workers.

Lead by example

In order to build an ethical organisation you must start from the top down. Your team will see your behaviour, choices and values, and will adopt them in their own practices.

“The ethical leader walks the line s/he she wants others to follow,” Heather R Younger points out. “Leading by example is the best way to ensure an ethical business.” Leading by example instils respect and lets your team see that you truly believe in them and trust them to work.

Find your role models

“There are many leaders throughout history,” says Mike Sheety, director of ThatShirt. “Do a little research of good, powerful leaders and try to identify what they do [well]. Then, implement it into your own leadership style.” 

Care for yourself so you are able to care for others

However, you ‘cannot pour from an empty cup’, as the saying goes. “Having a calm and capable demeanor is the foundation of strong leadership,” Christine Matzen, founder of Oak Street Strategies says. “This can be accomplished through making sure that you, as a leader, are focused on meeting your own needs, [like] sleep, nutrition [and] true connection with loved ones.”

Christine believes that devoting time to self-care might sound simple, but it’s critical to support your capabilities as a leader. “The leader who is happy and content in life wants happiness and contentment for those they lead.” 

Make an ethical leadership plan

Being an ethical leader involves more than simply stating you plan to act for the general good of all; you should make an active plan for how your actions at work can make you an ethical leader. 

Provide appropriate training 

Ethical behaviour should always be emphasised through training opportunities. Schedule sessions that drive home how treating others in an ethical way promotes a positive workplace.

Remember – actions matter more than words

Ethical leaders don’t make false promises. If they make a promise, they do whatever they need to in order to keep it. Always act in an unselfish and kind way to everyone on your staff.

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