One of the roles of strategic leadership (Hitt & Ireland) is to emphasize ethical practices, which “serve as a moral filter through which potential courses of action are evaluated.” (p. 71)
A strategic leader’s commitment to pursuits which legal, ethical and social concerns have been taken into account is thought to be both morally right and economically efficient. (p.71).
This shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Just do the right thing and all will be fine. As most seasoned leaders know, it isn’t always that easy. Often we are blind to the idea that there might be an ethical component to a particular decision. Or self-interest directly opposes the ethical choice.
I recently listened to a webcast from Turnitin (an online plagiarism checker that makes its money by helping professors to police students). In the webcast, “Why Students Plagiarize”, Jason Stephens shares the reasons that students cheat even when they know it is wrong:
Pressure: They feel pressure to achieve grades, either because of parents, personal expectations or in order to get into graduate school. The goals set may be unreasonable (see Goals Gone Wild) yet there is still pressure to achieve the goals. (A partial contributor to the 2008-9 mortgage melt down).
Lack of Interest: They aren’t interested in the topic, in school, have a low mastery or learning orientation.
Lack of ability: Either they do not have the ability to do the work, or they think they don’t have the ability to do the work.
Sound familiar? Students and employees are not so different. Employees behave unethically when they have goals set too high, when they are disinterested in their work or when they don’t have the skills needed to achieve the task. As a leader, your job is to ensure, through processes and systems, as well as through monitoring and enforcement, that ethical practices prevail.
Managing and emphasizing ethical concerns is more than setting ethical guidelines, then monitoring and enforcing them. It’s critical for a leader to ensure that appropriate goals are set, and that ethical practices are embedded in the organizational culture, in the development of organizational human capital, and in organizational controls.
Ethics matter in our transparent society, where every misstep echoes through the internet. Bad ethics will destroy a brand and a business.What have you done recently to emphasize ethical practices in your organization?
Ireland, Duane & Hitt, Michael. “Achieving and maintaining strategic competitiveness in the 21st century: The role of strategic leadership”. Academy of Management Executive. 2005. Vol. 19. No 4.