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Cornerstone: The ethics of making good leadership decisions


February 25, 2009
By Lyle Quan

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Many articles have been written about how to be a good manager or leader and how to communicate with staff and peers. However one thing that is sometimes overlooked is the practical application of ethics. Even the most polished leadership skills won’t effectively drive home your vision of the future if your staff and peers don’t trust you or believe in you.

Many articles have been written about how to be a good manager or leader and how to communicate with staff and peers. However one thing that is sometimes overlooked is the practical application of ethics. Even the most polished leadership skills won’t effectively drive home your vision of the future if your staff and peers don’t trust you or believe in you.

Firefighters are trusted and are viewed as caring people with good values. However, as we move up the ladder of success, we can become more results oriented, which, at times, may mean that it’s more about getting the job done than doing it with integrity.

Ethical leadership is all about doing the right things, which also means owning up to the mistakes we make. I have found that a simple, sincere apology goes a long way. But the key point here is that you are sincere about what you are trying to do. Sure, you can get away with doling out insincere apologies or words of praise for a while but sooner or later people will see through this.

This brings me to two books, The 4th Secret of the One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard and Margret McBride and The Power of Ethical Management by Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale.

The 4th Secret is about honesty, integrity and understanding what self-worth is all about. This quote from the book sums it all up for me: ”Honesty is telling the truth to ourselves and others. Integrity is living that truth.”

Before we can be good leaders we need to understand what self-worth and integrity are all about. Blanchard and McBride note that self-worth is not based on the opinion of others, rather it’s about being willing to admit our mistakes regardless of the outcome. Self-worth is also knowing it’s impossible to gain enough recognition, attain enough power or own enough stuff; it’s being comfortable with who you are and what you are legitimately trying to accomplish for the good of the team.

On the topic of integrity, the authors give us the following points as our integrity guide:

  • I know what I did may be inconsistent with the kind of person I want to be;
  • I am better than my behaviour;
  • I forgive myself;
  • I make amends for all harm done;
  • I demonstrate I have changed by changing my behaviour.

I found this book quite refreshing in its simple message about getting back to the basics of what a good boss (and person) is and how easy it is to lose sight of these simple points relating to personal and professional integrity. 

In the second book, Blanchard and Peale build on the first book’s message relating to honesty and integrity, starting off with a salient point: “There is no right way to do a wrong thing.”

Blanchard and Peale offer readers a list of points and questions to ask themselves when trying to discern how ethical they are when dealing with people. For example, when dealing with a problem and considering a plan of action, ask yourself:

  1. Is it legal – will I be violating either civil law or company policy?
  2. Is it balanced – is it fair to all concerned? Does it promote a win-win relationship?
  3. How will it make me feel about myself – will it make me proud? Would I feel good if my family knew about it?

The book also asks readers to ask themselves some hard questions relating to the types of mangers they are. What is your focus and are you adhering to the five principles of ethical power, which are:

  1. Purpose – are you walking the talk when it comes to meeting the organization’s mission statement?
  2. Pride – are you proud of yourself and your organization?
  3. Patience – maintaining a balance between obtaining results and caring how we achieve these results;
  4. Persistence – commitment to live by ethical principles;
  5. Perspective – taking time to pause and reflect.

When all is said and done, a sincere and ethical leader gives everyone else credit when things go right and takes full responsibility when things go wrong. However, many of us have seen the opposite – the self-centred leader who takes credit when things go well and blames everyone else when things go wrong. Don’t be a self-centred leader; support your people and give them credit where credit is due. If you make a mistake, own up to it.

Both books are gems with a great deal of uncluttered information that is worth referring to regularly, and both are available online through Amazon and Chapters.


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