5 Really Important Things Ethical Leaders Have in Common

May 10, 2016

Current events have put the topic of ethical leadership in the spotlight recently, and the concept is one that all successful business leaders are familiar with.

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Practicing ethical leadership can require you to make difficult decisions, but the benefits of running an ethically sound organization include earning the trust of stakeholders and the business of consumers. Organizations guided by ethics appear more trustworthy and strong, and many of those who lead these organizations have the following characteristics in common.

1. Ethical leaders have the respect of their employees.

A leader who operates under a strong code of ethics earns the respect of his or her employees. Some leaders do this by demonstrating a strong work ethic, accomplishing tasks alongside workers to show that no job is too small when it comes to meeting business goals. Other leaders do so through open-mindedness, diplomatically listening to the input of staff members and displaying a willingness to accept new ideas. Still others earn respect by openly communicating with workers so that expectations are clear 

In a variety of ways, ethical leaders earn respect because they consistently recognize the importance of showing respect for their employees. Employees who feel respected are likely to be more committed to a company, more productive, and more likely to stay in a job longer. Additionally, leaders who establish business practices that foster a culture of respect are often able to recruit the most talented workers.

2. Ethical leaders are honest.

An ethical leader strives for honesty and transparency in interactions with his or her staff, as well as in dealings with other companies. A leader who cultivates an ethical business does not make promises that he or she has no intention of keeping, and operates with a high level of transparency.

Being an honest business leader often means stating unpopular facts or making decisions to do things the difficult way because it is the right way, rather than simply electing to do something the wrong way because it is easier. In return for this honesty, leaders often receive trust and loyalty from both staff members and potential business partners. Honesty also increases the likelihood that other ethical businesses will want to do business with your firm.

3. Ethical leaders make ethics a part of business culture.

Some executives make the mistake of believing that holding a workshop or distributing a handbook to employees is an effective way to be an ethical leader. However, the truth is that the only way to be a leader whose company reflects his or her values is to integrate the concept into the business’ operations.

Integrating ethics into a business culture doesn’t necessarily have a direct impact on the day-to-day operations of a company, but good leaders use it to guide decision-making when the opportunity presents itself. The most important aspect of building ethics into a business culture is that the leader models the ethical behaviors that he or she expects other staff to exhibit. Leading by example is the most direct way to establish principled practices within your company.

4. Ethical leaders don’t ignore policy violations.

When a staff member conducts him or herself in a way that violates a company’s ethical standards, an ethical leader does not turn a blind eye on the situation. Breaches of conduct do not necessarily need to result in termination, but all employees should understand that acting contrary to the company’s code of ethics will have consequences.

An ethical leader treats his or her employees with fairness, and associates who go against your business’ ethics policies should be dealt with accordingly. Leaders who opt to ignore these situations are sending mixed messages; they’re inadvertently telling their staff that the behavior is acceptable, despite guidelines to the contrary.

5. Ethical leaders recognize that the practice is complex.

Sometimes it’s not clear how a business or executive should act with integrity. Ethical leaders recognize that grey areas are an inevitable part of life, and they should create a precedent for handling ambiguous situations.

An ethical leader looks at an equivocal dilemma, makes an initial decision, and then asks the right questions. For example, is the leader comfortable with revealing his or her decision to employees or partners? Who will be negatively impacted by this decision? Will this decision be seen as fair by those most affected by it?

The right choice is not always the easiest one to make in a professional setting, but a leader who has an established protocol for ethical conduct, as well as confidence in their ability to remain dedicated to that protocol, will keep their business on the right track.