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The subject of ethics is tricky, but critical, to every leader and each workplace. Some would say ethics are “good” behaviors, yet we’ve all seen good experienced in multiple interpretations. It is the confusion around what they are and how to enact them that makes ethics tricky and yet this is also why they landed on our Top Ten Tips for Leaders list of 2019. What makes ethics even more tricky is when you have them and use them daily, they are much more an experience than explanation. In fact, if you have to explain to a new leader or team member, what ethics are exactly, chances are good there is a likely deviation from them in their future. But what are ethics exactly and how do leaders not only experience them, but explain them in way that incites compliance and frequent utilization?

By Definition

According to EthicsSage.com, “in philosophy, ethical behavior is that which is “good.” The field of ethics or moral philosophy involves developing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. These concepts do not change as one’s desires and motivations change. They are not relative to the situation. They are immutable. However, it is difficult to judge what may be right or wrong in a particular situation without some frame of reference.” And if you’re still reading, it is more difficult still to wrap one’s head around what that means exactly in the office. Ethics, by definition, incorporates norms and standards or behavior, laws and guidelines, and a snippet of character. In short, to experience ethics, you and those you lead are doing what they consider to be right, what society considers to be right, and what your organization deems is appropriate, though the latter is less of a factor.

By Example

This means that in order to develop ethical behavior in those you lead and the new leaders in your organization, you simply have to state the rules as you know them. The rest of ethics is conditioned, taught, and shared long before most employees enter the workforce. We are taught right and wrong as youngsters. We are conditioned to identify certain actions as appropriate and others as those one just doesn’t commit. But what happens when those you lead were raised in or exposed to an entirely different set of guidelines? Then it is up to you to set the example. It is up to leadership to do what is right even when no one is looking. It is up to leadership to make the tough calls, to give the customer what we said we’d give even when the price quoted makes us lose money. It is up to leadership to truly terminate those who violate policies we say result in immediate termination. It is up to leadership to do what is right when doing what is wrong is so much easier. Leaders and those you lead experience ethics through your examples, not your explanation.

By Being Transparent

It’s the word that has shown up in the news lately. Universities, government entities, and yes, leaders, are facing changing expectations of their behavior. Be transparent. It’s easy when what others believe is right mirrors your own beliefs and actions. It is much more treacherous when situations are complicated, riddled with politics, or have solutions easy to implement that might hurt a few, but serve a good purpose for many. Yet, be transparent in your struggle. Show the difficult decision-making progress. When you struggle to write someone up, talk through the multiple sides you see in the issue. When you feel strongly about a reorganization, be aware that the actions you may have to take may emphasize a difference in ethics between you and the organization. When appraisals come around, give employees a say in their own development and rating or assessment. This is different than letting them fill it all out. This is being transparent in ethics, being willing to face and have tough conversations, and ethical leadership.

The topic of ethics is tough enough without adding another challenge, so this Monday we forego the become a better leader challenge and replace it with an opportunity to merely consider your position. Where do you stand on what’s right and what’s wrong in your organization? Your own right and wrong rules guide your leadership style, tolerance, and actions. Those of your workplace, if vastly different from your own, are guiding your frustration. Frustrated leaders find it hard to develop anything more than other frustrated leaders. So maybe it’s time to stop explaining the concept of ethics and to start simply experiencing them through your transparent discussions, leading by example behavior, and clarity of what, at least you, expect and will or will not accept in the behavior of those you have the privilege of leading.

I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week and of course, stay Contagious!

Monica Wofford, CSP develops leaders. CEO of Contagious Companies, her firm designs and delivers leadership training for those managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.

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