The Impact of the Unethical Senior Leader
When organizational leaders are trying to create an ethical culture, sometimes one of the Senior Leaders is not helping or is even blocking their efforts. The distraction, fear and chaos created by an unethical Senior Leader can drain the company of engagement, creativity and productivity.
Is blocking a company’s efforts to create an ethical culture unethical? You bet. It may be the cause of company failure because of the negative systemic effects that it creates. The systemic effects created by even one Senior Leader leading unethically include loss of trust, loss of employee engagement, loss of customers, lowered productivity, increased complaints, failure of departments to work together, sabotage, blaming, etc…
Correct it Quickly
When a Senior Leader is operating against the best interests of the company and its stakeholders, the problem needs to be corrected by the other Senior Leaders as quickly as possible. How?
Clear Standards for Behavior
First, be sure that you have clear standards for leadership performance that include expectations for ethical leadership. Often companies have leadership standards, but they are vague and/or do not include specific expectations for leading ethically.
If you have clear standards, be sure that the behavior of the disruptive Senior Leaders is specified in the standards as not acceptable. If not, it’s time to change the standards.
If you have standards for ethical leadership, and they clearly state that the behaviors used by the dissenting Senior Leaders are not allowed, it’s time to hold the Senior Leader accountable for following the standards. The individuals who are not following the company’s standards need to be made aware of:
- the need for the Senior Leadership team to consistently model the leadership that is expected of others
- the need for an ethical culture to appeal to today’s ethics-savvy consumers
- the need for consistency and trust that starts with the Senior Leadership Team to be able to attract and keep good employees
Below are some articles about the Senior Leader’s impact on the company and the need for an ethical culture that could be the basis for discussion in Senior Leader meetings.
Articles About the Senior Leader Role in Building Ethical Culture
The Right Thing? Leaders Speak Out on Corporate Ethics CCL.org
The Role of Tone From the Top Ethisphere.com
Leadership, Not Codes, Are True Test of Company’s Ethics Newswise.com
The Importance of Ethical Culture: Increasing Trust and Driving Down Risk Ethics.org Research Brief
Why Trust Improves Both Ethics and Returns BPMMag.net
Author’s Note: This post may be used as a discussion-starter for leader groups and leadership classes. To use it that way, have each leader read the articles in advance, then discuss what you learned when you gather as a group.
Linda Fisher Thornton is Owner of Leading in Context LLC, providing Tools for Ethical Leadership in a Complex Workplace. She is also Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Continuing Studies.
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