Defining Morals and Ethics
It seems that every day there are more and more stories in the news about bad things that various business people have done. This has led to a general discussion on morals and ethics, especially as it applies to the business world. It is important that leaders, especially in the business world, behave in a moral and ethical manner. These are not words or principles that are easily defined, especially as they apply to businesses or to leaders, but some general ideas have started to emerge. Generally speaking, “ethics is the study of moral obligations, or of separating right from wrong” (Durbin, A. 2010., p. 170). Ethics can also mean “the accepted guidelines of behavior for groups or institutions” (Durbin, A. 2010., p. 170). Morals “are an individual’s determination of what is right or wrong” and is closely linked to a person’s values (Durbin, A. 2010., p. 170). These two words are closely related. Morals deals with issues of right or wrong on an individual basis while ethics looks at a broader view. Ethics are becoming more and more important in the workplace. Even research has been conducted that shows that ethics are directly tied to the success or failure of a company. The ethics or perception of ethical behavior on the part of a company also is directly tied to “attracting, retaining, and ensuring productivity among employees” (Durbin A. 2010., p. 171).
Most Important Traits of an Ethical Leader
Honesty, Trustworthiness, and Integrity – These are the starting points for ethical behavior in a leader. These traits are all tied together and interrelated. An ethical leader is honest (tells the truth) in all of his dealings. He or she does not lie or mislead nor does he or she give misleading information. This is particularly true when a leader is dealing with a stakeholder in the company. Closely related to this is trustworthiness. A leader that is honest is perceived to be trustworthy. Others, especially stakeholders, will trust them with making important decisions about the company. Integrity goes beyond honesty and trustworthiness but is closely related. A leader that is honest and trustworthy will be perceived to have integrity. Integrity is having a sense of honor, knowing what is right and wrong, being honest, and having a strong sense of moral principles. These three traits are the ethical foundation for leaders that want to behave in an ethical manner.
Other Traits of an Ethical Leader
Fairness - Every business has various stakeholders. Each of these stakeholders may have different interests but all want to see the business succeed. Some stakeholders are owners or shareholders and will be very interested in profit. Other stakeholders are employees and have a vested interest in keeping their job, despite profit or loss. Whatever the position, each of these groups have a stake in the business. As such, they should all be treated equally. This means that a leader has to be concerned with more than just profit. A leader has to look at the whole picture and how each decision will affect the various stakeholders. The leader cannot put one group of stakeholders’ needs or desires above the needs and desires of another group. This can be difficult as a leader will face pressure to increase profit, even at the expense of other stakeholders. This is why a leader must rise above this pressure and behave ethically and treat each group equally. In the end, this behavior should result in increased profits, as workers will trust their leader and want to improve productivity, thereby increasing profits.
Ability to create a sense of community - An ethical leader possesses certain traits. Honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity are three such traits. Another way to achieve increased productivity and treat all stakeholders equally is to create a common goal for all those within the company. Creating this sense of community is