Strategic #Leadership & Ethical Practices

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.


3 replies »

  1. I wonder if Jason Stephens also added that in most cases, students are not even taught what plagiarism is and how to avoid it…not an intuitive process for a freshman student if you ask me! My point is that it’s not all black or white, so as a leader, it’s very important to think outside the box sometimes.

    • So true Ray. I implemented 6 hours of information literacy instruction in one of my third year classes this year. I was shocked to realize that most of my students, while having a vague understanding of plagiarism, didn’t really know how to research, paraphrase or cite journals. My job isn’t to teach students content, it’s to teach them the ability to think critically, and make good decisions. Now that is a challenge.

      Thanks for stopping by.


  2. Making a few phrase changes and this very well meaning sermon could have come from any pulpit anywhere in the world. In fact, I’m sure it has. Setting ethical goals for all your followers, monitoring, controlling, and enforcing sounds a bit like the inquisition. I don’t believe it worked too well.
    Leaders who accept that position also become instant role models. If they have their own ethics in place it will show and followers will begin to emulate those ethics. If, however they are like today’s pack of leaders (Government – Clinton, Bush, Gaddafi……; Church – Jones, PTL, RC…..; Corporate – Enron, Exxon, Nortel…..) the message of “Do as I say, Not as I do!” tends to get lost in the clutter of most of the BS being fed to the followers.
    Being ethical and fostering ethics within an organization effects the “Bottom Line”. It Cost profit to be ethical. Getting caught being unethical can also effect the “Bottom Line” as you stated. Since the “Bottom Line’ is “The Bottom Line” the message leaders role model is simply “Don’t Get Caught!” and if you do, Lie! Lie! Lie!”
    Pessimistic? Worked with government, church and corporate and as role models they suck. By the way, students have role models as well. Who are they and what do the students learn from them?

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