Civility is an Ethical Issue
August 8, 2012 3 Comments
by Linda Fisher Thornton
Civility is Part of Ethical Behavior
The Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary defines civility as “polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior.” These behaviors are the ones we use when we treat others with care.
According to Michael Brannigan, The Pfaff Endowed Chair in Ethics and Moral Values at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY., “Ethics deals fundamentally with how we treat each other on a daily basis. Indeed, our small acts of civility and incivility constitute the heart of morality.”
Responsible leaders know that civility is the minimum standard for how we should treat others. As members of a society, we are expected to behave in ways that allow others to pursue their life’s work and to contribute fully to that society.
Civility is at the Core of Ethical Leadership
Civility has in the past been on the sidelines of ethical discussions, and we can agree that its role has been neglected. As we have incorporated strands of insights from moral theorists and sociologists, we agreed that civility ― this unfocused value ― can no longer be ignored. We can’t speak about ethics and moral behaviors without talking about community, issues of morality exposed by human need, and the moral role that civility plays in the leadership culture.
Joseph P. Hester and Don R. Killian, “The Moral Foundations of Ethical Leadership,” The Journal of Values Based Leadership, online at http://www.valuesbasedleadershipjournal.com
Civility is an ethical issue in a global society. Ethical leadership includes the responsibility for treating others with respect and care, even when it’s not convenient, and even when it impacts profitability. This responsibility includes:
- respecting others
- avoiding harm
- building trust
- reducing stress
- listening to others (regardless of their position)
- engaging people in meaningful work, and
- providing an environment where everyone can do their best
Civility is a “load-bearing beam” in the foundation of ethical leadership. Ethical companies accept nothing less.
Questions for Discussion:
1. How clearly do our performance standards specify that we expect respectful behavior?
2. Do all of our leaders know that civility is the minimum standard for behavior in our organization?
3. How well are we backing up our performance expectations by holding people accountable for using ethical interpersonal behavior?
4. How can we make our expectation for respectful behavior clearer?
Related Leading in Context® Posts:
About The Author: Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO/Owner of Leading in Context, a leadership development firm providing leadership consulting and learning publications that address complex ethical issues. She is also Adjunct Assistant Professor for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies.
Current Leading in Context® Publications:“Ethical Implications of How Leaders Perceive ‘Different’” Training Module “Ethical Interpersonal Behavior” Graphic “The Evolving Leadership Context: Respectful Workplaces” Video