Ethical Leadership

Doing the Right Thing

Know in advance what you'd do.

© iStockphoto

We've seen some high profile ethical failures in the press in recent years. It will be hard to forget the devastation caused by accounting fraud at the investment company run by Bernard Madoff, or the earlier frauds at Enron and Worldcom. People have also raised ethical questions over the welfare of some organizations' staff and suppliers.

This highlights the extent to which it can be difficult for leaders to determine what's right and wrong. Some make the wrong choices – and end up in the news or in the courts.

What we rarely see, however, are stories about the numerous companies that are managed by ethical leaders. While standards seem to keep falling in some corporations, other leaders "raise the bar" and inspire their teams to do the same. These leaders do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons. They put their ethics before the bottom line – and, as a result, they have dedicated teams that would do almost anything for them.

So how do they do this? And how can you do it as well? We'll show you how to define your own ethical standards – and start putting those standards into practice.

Define Your Organization's Values

To lead your team with character and integrity, you must set an example. You're the leader, remember? Your team looks to you. To begin, you must know your own values as well as your organization's values.

For example, the global technology giant 3M is well known for its company values. Why? Because the entire team – from top executives all the way down to the mailroom – live and breathe the principles of honesty and integrity every day. 3M communicates clearly that it wants its staff to do things like keep promises, have personal accountability, and respect others in the workforce. Every leader in the company knows this, so they work by these rules. And as a result, everyone else follows.

Hopefully, your company has clear rules about how it wants team members to act. As a leader, it's up to you to know these rules and codes of conduct – and to make sure you enforce them. (Our in-depth article Why the Rules are There   can help you with this.)

Your personal values   are also important. If the company's written rules don't say that you must be fair to everyone, but this value is important to you – then, of course, you're going to be fair.

Good leaders follow their personal values as well as organizational values  .

Ask yourself these questions...

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