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Volume 7 | Issue 2

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Ethical Leadership; The Employee’s Battle

Ethical Leadership; The Employee’s Battle

Ethics and integrity are seen as two sides of the same coin. When you have ethics, you have integrity, and when you have integrity, you are seen as an ethical person. The leader seen as owning this two sided coin is perceived as being the most honest person in the organization.

However, being an ethical leader is more than just having strong values. An ethical leader sees it as their responsibility to inspire, guide and create an environment that both motivates and sustains employees to commit their loyalty to that enterprise. 

The enduring axiom is successful leaders are the example that others live by. At the core of ethics is truth, and where you find truth, you find transparency, honesty, and the idea of “fair play”.

Fairness and Fair Play

It’s important to realize that Fairness and Fair Play are two distinctly different elements. Fairness is a political/social word with an amorphous meaning. As a consequence, it is highly suspect in a business context. In contrast, the idea of fair play is rooted in the principle that everyone is treated with equal impartiality.

The ultimate ethical goal is trust. Can the managers and employees trust the person they answer to, does that person have their back. The absence of ethical leadership leads to the absence of truth and the absence of transparency.

Undervalued Ethics

In companies where these behaviors and characteristics are undervalued, unethical behaviors by corporate executives become like a virus spreading unchecked across and within an organization.  Think about it, everything eventually flows downhill. 

When leaders are perceived to be ruthless and inconsiderate in their business dealings with others, be they customers, vendors or service providers, their employees are likely to get that message too. On the whole, employees want to be associated with managers who are honest, credible, respectful, and impartial.

Where am I going with this? Having set the stage with this introduction, here is the question of the day. How is it that employees and CEO’s are seemingly on the opposite sides of this issue? 

Two Levels of Perception

Several recent surveys show that approximately 75% or more of employees believe Integrity of their CEO’s is the most essential quality a leader can have. That being said, less than half of all CEO’s surveyed (46%) identified integrity as their most essential leadership quality. More than half of CEO’s surveyed identified other qualities as more essential.

Among the many “lists” of qualities deemed essential I’ve seen words and phrases like empathy, emotional intelligence, courageous, ability to listen, ability to engage, passion, and intensity. Only a few of these lists include the word integrity.

What separates the leader from those he or she leads? The anvil and hammer of compliance. Getting compliance right demands that every requirement necessary is fully identified and satisfied; often to the detriment of other important factors. More than half of CEO’s choose the one over the other.

I go into greater detail about the clash between compliance and ethics in my book The Battle for Ethics and Integrity in the Workplace: The Leader’s Dilemma.

When They Get It Wrong

Data developed over more than four decades demonstrates that organizations achieve better employee attraction, and retention when employees believe their leaders and managers are both responsible and ethical. The data is well known and understood.

Failure to demonstrate this leadership trait from the executive to the manager often results in higher employee turnover, and a decreased likelihood of attracting new, high caliber employees. Losing employees and having to hire new employees quickly becomes a revolving door in these types of organizations.

It becomes an expensive challenge to reverse this condition once it takes hold and also can take a significant amount of time to change that kind of environment. Higher than average turnover rates introduce a number of negative behaviors that impact key areas such as productivity, safety, and absenteeism. 

Add to this mix another simple truth. Leaders must set the example for others while withstanding/overcoming the many business and personal temptations that often occur along their way. Unfortunately, many of them fail to do so, and act on “a different set of values”. This can, and often does, create a separation between what their employees see as essential and what many leaders deem essential.

Be they executive or worker, few are ignorant of the importance of integrity and ethics. However, many choose to ignore the imperatives of good character, the right values. For more than a few in leadership roles these essential traits become compromised because the realities of ethical leadership are complex.  

What Is Expected By Whom

Ethical leaders are the primary stakeholders in organizations; striving to achieve the purpose, vision and value of their enterprise without compromising their own self-interest. They connect the goals of the organization with those of the employees and other stakeholders. It’s also what is expected by employees – often at an even higher level than they aspire to themselves. 

Good quality relationships built on respect and trust are the most important determinants of organizational success. Ethical leaders understand that these types of relationships are the soil that allows the growth of fundamental principles such as trust, respect, integrity, honesty, equity, justice and compassion. 

These same ethical leaders help give meaning to their employees work and ensure that organizational decisions are based on sound moral values. Ethical leaders are consistently making efforts to incorporate moral principles in their beliefs, and behaviors. 

They are committed to a higher set of standards in pursuit of higher quality and reliability across the organization in ways that capture and hold the loyalty of every employee.  

Ethical Recommendations

To this end, the following recommendations are offered for corporate leaders in the management of ethical issues:

ï The CEO is seen as the chief ethic officer of his/her organization 

ï He/she must ensure a strong ethical culture (a total quality management of ethics) within the workplace 

ï The goal of the organization is to hire ethical people. They must also focus on a candidate’s ethical skills in addition to their technical skills in the recruitment/screening process. 

ï Organizations must ensure that employees at all levels participate in ethics training programs. 

ï Corporate leaders must reward ethical conduct and discipline unethical conduct. 

Here is another truth; organizations whose leaders and managers engage in ethical behavior attract both customer and employee loyalty. They stay true to their mission statements and organizational values. 




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