Defining Leadership

The Truth About Ethical Leadership

Akhil Shahani asked:

Leadership is a relationship between leaders and followers. The foundation of this relationship is trust. Ethics refer to the principles that define behavior as right, good and proper. There is an inextricable link between leadership and ethics. Leaders must themselves be ethical in their decisions and actions in order to influence others to behave accordingly.

Without a common set of values, an organization is merely a collection of individuals coexisting (perhaps uneasily) within common boundaries. A well defined value system creates a common understanding within the group of what constitutes acceptable behavior.

This piece helps you understand the essence of ethical leadership and the ways in which you can practice it. You might also like to check out and for more on this subject.

Value sharing: As an ethical leader, it is your responsibility to set the standard of truth. Since you are the one in control, you can set the benchmarks for doing business the right way. However, leading by example may not be sufficient by itself. You need to pass on a clear message to the rest of your organization about the standards they must adhere to.

Share your knowledge and values throughout the organization for its benefit. A company value statement is en effective way of reinforcing the message.

Quality orientation: Business ethics is all about providing value for the customers and other stakeholders. That’s why a quality policy must be part of the company’s DNA. It is your responsibility to champion this cause, and drive the quality program throughout your firm. Well respected organizations like GE have demonstrated ethical leadership by pursuing a relentless quality ethic.

Openness: It is but natural that leaders will depend upon a core advisor group for key decisions. Often, this group is small and creates a coterie, which is not necessarily in the larger interests of the organization. Ethical leadership is all about a more open collaboration between different members. A larger and more fluid influencing group, put together depending on the needs of a specific situation is likely to result in a more unbiased decision making process.

Participation: Although you have the power to take decisions, allow your employees to contribute to the process. Support and guide your team members wherever necessary, so that they will be able to utilize their capabilities to the fullest. Adopting this practice of ethical leadership is especially effective when you wish to implement change or minimize risk.

Succession planning: All leaders, including independent entrepreneurs must plan on handing over the reins someday to a worthy candidate. This is not an overnight process. Succession planning is an integral part of ethical leadership, and must begin during the current leader’s tenure. Potential leaders must be identified, guided and trained to take charge in future. Closely linked to this is the question of how long a leader must stay at the helm of affairs. Regardless of a mandatory retirement age, an ethical leader must choose to stay on only as long as the community around him feels that this is in the larger interests of the organization. Self serving considerations must be put aside, while deciding on this issue.

A common misconception is that ethical leadership is “soft”. Nothing could be further from the truth. An ethical leader can wield as much authority and influence as any other. What makes him stand out is that he does not lose sight of the organization’s cherished values in the process of leading.


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