Developing the Ethical Leader of the Future
October 17, 2012 7 Comments
by Linda Fisher Thornton
On Thursday, I spoke with Human Resource leaders attending the Richmond SHRM Strategic Leadership Conference about The Future of Ethics and Business Leadership.
The lens I used to frame the discussion was leadership development – how we can prepare leaders to lead ethically in a highly complex, connected future.
Here are some highlights from my presentation – a few of the important success principles for developing “Ethical Leader Future.”
Use a Values-Based Approach
- When we aim our leadership ethics training toward meeting laws and regulations, we are aiming at the minimum standard.
- A compliance-based approach to leadership ethics focuses on avoiding violations and penalties.
- A values-based approach to leadership ethics teaches our leaders the values we want them to use as they make decisions every day.
- When we ignore complexity, we tend to teach the part of “ethical leadership” that is crystal clear and easy to explain (and that they probably already know).
- Oversimplified messages lead to boredom and do not help leaders deal with the complexity that they face in their work.
- When we acknowledge complexity, we help leaders resolve the natural tension between our leadership and performance expectations and our ethical expectations.
- When leaders are able to practice dealing with complex ethical issues while they are learning, they are better prepared to make ethical decisions when faced with difficult decisions on the job.
Expect Respectful Behavior
- We have a responsibility to expect respectful behavior, including teaching people what it looks like and how to use it successfully in conflict situations.
- We are increasingly aware of the importance of honoring human rights and building workplaces that demonstrate full inclusion.
- As the “Human” supporters and developers of the organization, Human Resources, Learning and Training departments have a responsibility to teach leaders how to create respectful workplaces, where people can do their best work.
Make Leaders Aware of Their Mindsets and Assumptions
- Our behavior tends to follow our mindset. If we think that there is only one “right” way to do things, that is usually reflected in how we treat people who are doing things the way that makes sense for them.
- Since we lead other people, and that involves relationships, we need to examine our assumptions and biases so that we don’t blindly let them influence our behavior.
Integrate Ethics and Leadership
- Ethics and leadership should never be separated. To separate them when we are training leaders sends the message that there can be good leadership without ethics. What behavior might we get if all of our leaders believe that there can be good leadership without ethics?
- Making ethics an integral part of all leadership development sends the message that “we lead ethically.”
Hold Leaders Accountable
- Every leader at every level of the organization should be held accountable for ethical behavior.
- With accountability for ethical behavior should also come opportunities to practice, and support while applying new skills.
Using these principles for success will help us prepare leaders to behave and lead ethically in an increasingly complex and connected world. Leaders already struggle with complex problems. We need to acknowledge that complexity and help them build the mindset to deal with it responsibly.
Linda Fisher Thornton is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She is also CEO/Owner of Leading in Context LLC, a leadership development consulting firm helping business leaders lead responsibly in a complex world.
Current Leading in Context® Publications:
Testimonials - Learn about the Leading in Context difference from satisfied customers, readers and fans!
© 2012, Leading in Context LLC. All rights reserved.