The Ethical Leader

In today’s competitive climate, the need for ethical leadership is stronger than it has been since the Enron-Andersen scandal over a decade ago. 

From the boardroom to politics to government to the sports arena, we are bombarded with examples of leaders who choose to make an ‘easy’ decision rather than the ‘right’ decision.  Often they claim that they technically did nothing wrong.  Yet, ethically they are guilty.

In the tough and competitive times we are in, leaders are tempted to explore all opportunities to increase efficiency and higher profitability.  True leaders, however, will keep in mind the following ethical principles.  Doing so, they will ensure they maintain an ethical culture while providing exemplary leadership.

  1. Examine all elements of your organization’s climate and put safeguards in place for strict policy adherence.

  2. When communicating policies, don’t just print, post, and pray that everyone will follow them.

  3. Build ethical conduct into corporate systems and processes.

  4. Be explicit in expectations.  Don’t leave room for assumptions in critical matters.

  5. Build a robust ethics infrastructure that is self-sustaining.

  6. Publicly commit to being an ethical organization.

  7. Publish your Code of Conduct. 

  8. Separate auditing from other functions.  Independent investigation is key.

  9. Talk with employees at all levels– often. Keep the lines of communication open.

  10. Create mechanisms for reporting suspected violations and suspicious activity.  Protect whistleblowers.

  11. Establish an Ethics Officer/Committee to constantly keep the organization focused and aligned with local, industry, and federal guidelines.

  12. Live your corporate values every day.  Lead by example.

The above is adapted from Business Ethics:  Going Away or Awry, a program we’ve delivered for nearly 9 years for companies, nonprofits, and educational institutions.  It’s based on our own experiences as well as the research from the Ethics Resource Center.


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