The Ethical Leadership Puzzle: A Broader View

An Award and a Violation Do Not “Net Out” to Equal Ethical Leadership

There are companies that are winning categories in one aspect of ethical leadership (CSR, Sustainability, or Human Rights for example) and then being cited for violations in another aspect of ethical leadership (CSR, Sustainability, or Human Rights for example).  The fact that this is happening illustrates the point that “ethical leadership” is broader than many companies think it is.

A Failure to Think About Ethics as a System May Lead to a Failure of Ethics

All of the aspects of ethical leadership that are now considered part of responsible business are included in a broader puzzle that is “ethical leadership” in a globally connected society. The components of business ethics are connected and interdependent, operating as a system. Focusing too much on any one of the components in isolation can lead to the neglect of ethics in another.

How Broad is Ethical Business Leadership?

Use this starter checklist to see if you are monitoring the ethics of your business broadly enough:

  • ethical business mission
  • respect for human rights
  • use of sustainable resources
  • respectful treatment of people
  • ethical ingredients that do not harm
  • ethical suppliers, distributors, outsourcing vendors and partners
  • ethical marketing
  • ethical advertising
  • ethical hiring
  • transparent communication
  • ethical decision-making
  • leadership development that emphasizes ethical leadership
  • company-wide ethical leadership standards
  • competent senior leadership team that models the standards
  • energy-efficient, minimally polluting  transportation streams
  • ethical promotion, pay and incentive practices
  • sustainable business practices
  • minimal environmental footprint
  • compliance with all laws and regulations governing your industry
  • an ethics code specific to your business

And more….

Feel free to comment and name other areas of business ethics that you would add to this list…

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.



For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?
  7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
  2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
  About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 


  1. Hi Linda,
    I appreciate that there is always scope to over-simplify as well as to achieve the opposite – whether intended or not! But, here are my own thoughts:

    ETHICAL business, by definition, respects its stakeholders so operates INTERDEPENDENTLY. It offers TRANSPARENCY – because it can and it is a rare and, increasingly sought-after by discerning customers – thus can seize COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE from those of its competitors to whom transparency is a threat!

    As result of the ethical values, transparency and interdependence the business is not prone to generate excessive COMPLEXITY that erodes the structure of the business and increases risk.

    Less complex businesses are, significantly, more STABLE, PROFITABLE, PREDICTABLE and easier to MANAGE.

    Managing complexity and risk within the business makes it more ROBUST and enables the business leader(s) to assess where REDUNDANCY is required (to avoid fragility) and to build RESILIENCE.

    RESILIENT businesses are SUSTAINABLE which is good news for its STAKEHOLDERS, whether local or global and irrespective of domain.

    In short, an ethical organisation can afford transparency, which acts as a form of stakeholder-regulation. Leadership provides the values and vision.

    “A system which suppresses information and the low-level instability of dissent and negative feedback thus suppresses the information the system needs to remain stable. Suppressing dissent, facts, transparency and feedback inevitably destabilizes the system. It is ironic, isn’t it, that the suppression of dissent, facts and transparency creates the surface illusion of stability, but it is only a facade. Beneath the surface, the lack of information and low-level fluctuation/volatility builds up system instability which is suddenly released as non-linear, chaotic volatility and collapse”.



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