Recognizing Ethical Issues (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In Part 1 of this series, I explored why it is important to develop our own internal warning system to alert us when we need to think carefully about ethical issues. In this post, I’ll address why some leaders who want to do the right thing have not yet developed their capacity to detect ethical issues.

We have seen leaders ignore ethical issues and refuse to discuss them when questioned. We have also seen leaders verbalize their decision making, describing how they recognized an ethical issue, and how they thought through it to reach their decision about how to handle it. Doing that demonstrates transparency, which is an important element of ethical leadership. Why doesn’t every leader who wants to make responsible choices ‘do the work’ necessary to avoid making ethical mistakes?

Why Some Well-Intending Leaders Don’t “Do the Work” To Think Through Ethical Issues

  • It’s difficult and takes time
  • There is disagreement about how to interpret ethical issues, which further complicates things
  • Not everyone was taught how to do it
  • There is sometimes a fear of “doing it wrong”
  • They may be working in an organization where ethical thinking is not valued, not practiced, or even actively punished

To recap, there is no audible alarm that signals when you veer toward an ethical issue and need to proceed with caution. Any such “alert” has to be developed through the process of learning how to think through ethical issues, break them down, and make ethical decisions. In Part 3, I’ll explore how to learn and practice ethical thinking.

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership

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