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Your Ethical Footprint

Unfortunately, there are many examples of unethical leadership throughout the world today. Consider the Volkswagen debacle (2015) where the leadership purposely lied about their car emissions to millions of people, circumvented regulations meant to protect people’s health, and even deceived their own workers to meet unrealistic goals. The impacts are far reaching and stem from a lack of ethical leadership, leading to a focus on the personal gains and ambitions of a few instead of the needs of many. Violating this trust is a major offense since you are actively working in a way that may very well hurt the people you are leading.

Ethics is not something to think about once in a while, it should be a perspective or a lens you view all situations through. Ethical leadership requires understanding your role as a leader, the needs of your followers, and how to work to these ends in an ethically sound way. Ethical leadership also requires trust between the leader and those they are leading. As a leader, there are a few considerations that can help you to make ethical decisions:

What are we doing?

What actions are you taking? What are the actions that are being considered and what ethics are attached to those? Are those actions legal in their nature and do they follow all existing regulations? Evaluating the specific actions, we are taking can often help to shed light on any ethical questions that may or may not present themselves.

Who does it truly benefit?

People are involved when it comes to ethics. Ethical decisions impact others, so it’s important to think about who is being impacted and how they are being impacted. There are far too many examples of unethical leadership; leaders that hurt their followers, leaders that abuse the trust of their constituents, leaders that willingly violate laws to achieve their own personal ends. Ethical leadership requires a person to take their personal interest out of the situation and act on behalf of others involved. Leaders can have their own ambitions, and they should, but these ambitions should never be pursued at the expense of those you are leading or serving.

Why is this being done?

Motive is critical and knowing why something is occurring can reveal new aspects to ethic in a given situation. Knowing the motivation for the many different people and groups involved can ensure the actions taken remain ethical. In the case of Volkswagen, pursuing an action under the guise of good when there are more sinister motivations in play can be unethical in its own right.

What are the moral implications?

Morality and ethics are different from one another. Ethics regard the guidelines the world places on you while morals focuses on the guidelines or beliefs you place on yourself to operate by. Morality should be always considered. Sometimes actions that are technically within a level of ethicality may not line up with our own morals. In these moments, serious consideration should be given to the situation.

Any additional considerations?

This is for everything else that is outside of the previous considerations. All ethics have additional considerations because ethical situations tend to be complex with many different layers influencing each other. Ethical leadership requires including special considerations since each ethic situation will vary from other ethical situations.

Consider a hypothetical scenario: you do something today that is unethical but no one knows about it. In 15 years, you are about to receive a promotion to the job of your dreams and the company finds out about that unethical action you took years ago. How would you feel?

Warren Buffett

Your approach to dealing with ethics today will follow you into the future. In the digital age, everything is saved, recorded, or downloaded somewhere, so ethical blunders made today can impact you later. Without knowing it, the ethical actions you do or don’t take today can have drastic implications down the road. Leadership without ethics may achieve goals, but does so in a way that may undermine the goal itself.

As leaders, we must ask ourselves the tough questions, even when we don’t want to, and then we must act as best we can. Then we can leave a long lasting ethical footprint that positively impacts our organizations and followers.

*Leadership Lesson*

There are a number of ethical theories that can help us to understand our own personal guiding principles. Which of these theories resonates with you the most? How does it present itself in your leadership style? Why is it important to you?

Utilitarian Theory – Concerned with maximizing benefits and minimizing harm. “Greatest Good for the Greatest Number.”

Virtue Based Theory – Individuals possess certain qualities that define and guide appropriate behavior. “The decision maker should do the right thing in the right place as the right time in the right way.”

Rights Based Theory –  Everyone entitled to certain rights and individuals are moral agents for those rights. “I should only act in a way in which I would be happy if everyone in that situation would act the same.”

Justice Based Theory –  A comparative theory that asks, “Are the processes by which decisions are made and the outcomes of those decisions equitable, fair, and impartial?”

*Meet the Author*

JoePazmanyJoe Pazmany works with Leadership Inspirations developing training methods and experiential content while he completes research for his Doctorate in Organizational Leadership.