5 Ways CEOs Can Build an Ethical Culture

Leading in Context BlogBy Linda Fisher Thornton

CEOs are in a unique position to make ethics a priority through their everyday actions, but simply modeling ethics isn’t nearly enough. Here is a starting list of 5 actions CEOs can take that move organizations toward an ethical culture, besides telling people how important ethics is and demonstrating it in everyday behavior and choices.

5 Ways CEOs Can Build an Ethical Culture

1. Expect respectful, ethical behavior, and quickly correct behavior that doesn’t measure up

2. Make it safe for people to talk about the ethical grey areas they encounter in their work 

3. Talk about the organization’s values, ethics expectations and industry ethics codes 

4.  Give people the opportunity to practice making good ethical decisions

5. Talk openly about the ethical decisions you are making, and why they are so important

Why is proactively making ethics a priority so critical? CEOs protect the character of their organizations. They set the example that others follow.  They have the responsibility for creating a ripple of ethical behavior, choices, and conversations throughout their organizations.

Forward-thinking CEOs embrace this responsibility to protect the character of the organizations. When they talk openly about their own efforts to make ethical decisions, they also magnify that learning on an organizational scale.

7 Lenses Book

About Linda Fisher Thornton

As CEO of Leading in Context, Linda Fisher Thornton helps forward-thinking leaders and organizations bring out their best by developing ethical leaders and aligning ethical leadership performance systems. In 2013, Linda was named one of the Global Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Her new book is 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.

Leading in Context is a leader in providing clear tools for businesses of all sizes for implementing “ethical leadership future.”   For more information, see the LeadinginContext Manifesto, a statement of belief about ethical leadership that is behind a movement toward bringing out the best in people, organizations and communities. www.LeadinginContext.com

About Linda Fisher Thornton
Author of 7 Lenses, Speaker, Bringing Out the Best in People and Organizations Through Proactive Ethical Leadership, CEO Leading in Context, 2014 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior, Adj. Assist. Prof. of Ethics and Leadership, UR SPCS

7 Responses to 5 Ways CEOs Can Build an Ethical Culture

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  2. The safety issue you raise here is so important. People must feel encouraged to speak up and question.

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  6. Mark Willen says:

    There is another way that is perhaps implied in your list but may need to be more explicit. That is to support middle managers who make ethical decisions and come down very hard on those who rely on unethical techniques to enforce their control. I’ve seen some very ethical CEOs tolerate unethical behavior by middle managers because they “got the job done” or hit their financial goals. That negated any positive influence from the top. The CEO has to lead by example but also be an enforcer when others refuse to get the message.

  7. Josh says:

    The question is, what happens what happens when the CEO is perceived as going outside of that ethical box on a regular basis. The banking/financial services sector has come under a lot of scrutiny for this in recent history.

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