[December 31, 2020] I’m ending this year with an article on another essential item in the Leadership Toolbox. Tools are neutral; they can be used for good or bad, and, of course, leaders have many tools at their disposal. But it is the leader’s ethics to use those tools that matter. In today’s article, I will discuss an ethics guide. Such an ethics guide would help each leader determine whether they embody and live their profession’s values.
Our actions as leaders reflect directly upon our professional organizations as a whole. Although we perform countless ethical acts daily, ethical lapses are what make the news headlines. Ethical lapses undermine the trust, confidence, and faith held by our teams, their organizations, and the American people.
I began the Leadership Toolbox early in my blog’s beginnings. It was shortly before my retirement, and I was active as a Brigadier General of U.S. Army Engineers. My time was wrapped-up in solving the many problems that rise to that level, most often with no real solutions at hand. Otherwise, I would not have been involved. Some suggested that we throw the “rule book” out the window to solve those problems, which lacked easy solutions. I non-concurred because to do so would have violated basic ethical standards.
Leadership means that each leader is entrusted to provide others with purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. This “trust” requires leaders to live the values in the performance of their duty and their personal lives because this is the foundation for behavior and ethical decision-making. We are fortunate that self-reflection upon ethics can help. And, there are ethical guides that can assist us in that task.
Any ethics guide needs to start with the reality that today’s leaders are busy. An ethics “guide” should take little time to complete, although leaders can spend as little or as much time as they have available. Such a guide would promote common themes. The result should be to provide needed insight and enhanced understanding of where that particular leader stands.
An ethics guide will help leaders critically examine their personal values, character, and vulnerabilities to ethical lapses. The goal would be to maintain and improve the character of leaders and the ethical leadership they provide to others. Ideally, this guide would be in the form of short exercises designed to achieve a personal understanding and growth.
Leaders set the ethical tone wherever they are present. This tone is accomplished by communicating ethical standards, establishing fair and ethical decision-making processes, enforcing ethical standards, and showing alignment between words and deeds. Such an ethical guide will help leaders judges themselves whether they are on the right path.