Ethical Leaders Care
October 5, 2011 5 Comments
Ethical Leadership Involves Much More Than Avoiding Risk
Ethical leadership is about much more than making good decisions and abiding by laws and regulations. One of the elements of ethical leadership that may be overlooked when we view ethics using a “legal lens” is supporting and developing the potential of the people we lead.
While many leadership ethics programs focus on the risk side of ethics – compliance with laws and regulations, avoiding lawsuits, etc., there is an equally important side of ethics that involves care.
The Importance of Caring Leadership
Caring for others is an important element of ethical leadership that is gaining attention.
“Originally conceived as most appropriate to the private and intimate spheres of life, care ethics has branched out as a political theory and social movement aimed at broader understanding of, and public support for, care-giving activities in their breadth and variety.”
“Care Ethics” Page in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy at Arizona State University, online at iep.utm.edu
Caring is Part of Ethical Leadership
Care ethics focuses on the fact that we are all connected and have a responsibility to care for one another. We need to care because leadership is at its core about relationships.
A care ethic de-emphasizes the idea of the independent individual and instead stresses that persons exist in a web of relationships.
Care Theory, Western Kentucky University online at wku.edu.
We do “exist in a web of relationships.” We are more connected now than ever due to fast information exchange and a better understanding of our global economic and social systems. When we apply the care ethic, we act as if how we handle situations and how we treat people is just as important as following laws and making ethical decisions.
Leadership is about relationships. When we lead with care, we honor those relationships. Using ethics of care helps us think differently about any potential workplace conflicts, reminding us to use relationship-based means instead of only legal means for resolving touchy issues.
“A care ethic also seems to favor adopting procedures from Conflict Resolution and Dispute Mediation as alternative ways to approach an apparent ethical conflict.”
Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University, online at phil.cmu.edu
Leading With Care
Using ethics of care changes how we think and act as leaders. It helps us remember that each person is important and that treating each other with care is part of our shared human experience. Caring shows that we know that people are more than task-doers and that leading is more than tactical, more than obligatory, more than just a job.
Questions for Reflection
1. How well do we demonstrate as leaders that we care for others?
2. In what settings are we not currently demonstrating ethics of care?
3. How will we help our leaders know what caring leadership looks like?
4. How will we incorporate the concept of care ethics into our leadership development?
For Further Reading
The Moral Psychology of Business: Care and Compassion in the Corporation by Robert Solomon, Business Ethics Quarterly v.8 no3 (July 1998)
Care Ethics Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Ethics of Care Online Guide to Ethics and Morality at Carnegie Mellon University, online at phil.cmu.edu
Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO/Owner of Leading in Context, a leadership development firm providing leadership development materials in an ethical context.
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