Ethical operations can boost a company’s reputation and effectiveness – and such an approach requires leadership buy-in.
Business leaders are expected to be the ones to set an example for their team members. This includes exhibiting a strong sense of ethics in and out of the workplace. When management conducts themselves in honest and forthcoming ways, this type of personal accountability is often emulated throughout the company
The direct and indirect benefits of creating an honest and forthcoming culture are many and varied. Companies that let unethical behaviors become commonplace are susceptible to regulatory fines and negative perception in the eyes of customers. Potential employees may also hesitate to join these businesses, not wanting to end up in compromised and problematic workplaces.
Fortunately, as with so many “soft skills,” ethical behavior can be imparted through training and employee education. Business leaders who take these courses can direct their teams in transparent and morally sound ways that impact employees throughout their organizations.
The Impact of Ethical Leadership
As Business News Daily pointed out, the trust imparted by positive managerial ethics reaches both up and down the corporate ladder. Executives come to trust the mid-level leaders, and the employees in those managers’ departments are positively motivated to make their own ethical contributions to the team. Trust and belief that reach throughout the company’s structure is valuable for retaining workers, as it’s hard to convince people to stay for long periods in situations driven by bad-faith decisions.
There is little room for error today with regard to ethical behavior – Business News Daily cited Culture Hacker author Shane Green’s view that the social media era has increased the visibility of leadership failures. Issues that may have once gone unnoticed for long periods of time are now brought into the open, with managerial problems exposed to criticism and organizational reputations suffering damage as a result.
Leaders who successfully build strong ethics into their decision-making processes will be open to criticism and feedback, as Forbes Tech Council member Patrick Quinlan indicated. While facing direct input may be difficult at first, as it opens managers up to negative appraisals they might not have faced before, it is an essential step for individuals who want to learn the accurate concerns of their employees and take proactive steps to correct problematic elements of the corporate culture. When team members feel they can’t talk to their leaders, poor behaviors may take hold without management noticing.
Quinlan also noted, ethical leadership can become less about following a prescriptive list of policies and more concerned with what employees themselves want, need and believe in. He explained this embrace of people-driven ethics comes from leaders. While the workers themselves act as the conscience of the company in such an arrangement, this kind of culture cannot take hold if managers fail to listen to their team members or act unilaterally. Whether that means creating an ethical system so rigid it doesn’t resonate or having no system at all, it’s not an ideal principle to lead by.
Training an Ethical Leadership Group
As with many “soft skills,” ethics may at first seem to be intrinsic and unteachable. Fortunately for companies, this is not the case. Many courses instruct managers in various aspects of moral, transparent and positive leadership. Investing in such a training program can help an organization revolutionize its internal culture, representing a powerful first step toward improving its reputation with potential customers, current employees and job candidates alike.
One common theme in such courses is that “ethics” and “compliance” are not the same thing. Being a truly ethical leader means taking regulatory compliance as a first step rather than a final destination.
Of course, companies’ actions should be within the legal frameworks guiding their industries. Simply treating these laws as the only guide for decision-making can lead to troubling results, however, as the truly values-driven way to manage a given situation often involves going above and beyond what is required by law. Leaders can make completely legal decisions about how to treat their employees and still be subject to disapproval by their teams, customers or both. Managers must anticipate these situations and learn not to fall back on doing the bare minimum to comply.
Some unethical leadership behaviors come about because of unconscious bias or deeply ingrained assumptions that have been left unchallenged for years. Courses designed to encourage an inclusive and respect-driven approach to leadership are therefore an important part of training for new managers, to make sure the promoted employees handle their new duties in a positive and even-handed way. The concept is simple: By revealing mistakes leaders don’t realize they’re making, this training ensures the rising crop of managers will be more mindful in their day-to-day interactions.
Companies are made up of individuals, and group values are shaped by leaders at the team level. Ethics training aimed at managers can transform an organization’s everyday operations for the better, creating a respectful and positive environment.