Ethical Leadership in 2013

 

 handcuffs-scandals-2013

If you can’t trust people with your mother, we are in trouble!  My 74-year-old mother was in the market to buy another car.  She finally bought it at a used car dealership (mom n pop).  They convinced her that this used car (PT Cruiser) was great!

In a few days, the car had problems. She took it back to the used dealership; the owner told my mother she had purchased bad gas. Eventually, my mother took it to an independent car repair shop. The computer was dead! To date, the used car dealership has not returned any of my mother’s calls. 

Situations like this undermine the public trust in human beings.  We have become cynical of our leaders, public or private.  With the number of high profile scandals with government officials and business executives, many people would describe ‘ethical leadership’ as an oxymoron.   Can you have ethics and leadership side by side?  

Denis Collins, author of Business Ethics, further explains, “Subordinates are constantly evaluating the ethics of a manager’s decisions and behaviors. Actions speak louder than words.”  Therefore, any meaningful ethic program must start with senior management behavior.

Trust is the foundation of any meaningful corporate structure.  Gareth Jones and Jennifer George, management experts maintain that when leaders are ineffective chances are good that workers will not perform to their capabilities. 

Mark Johnston and Greg Marshall, authors of Relationship Selling, further suggest senior management style (do their actions match their words), the established culture of the organization and external forces can create a climate where unethical or even illegal behavior is tolerated. Therefore, senior managers should lead the way by example. 

Furthermore, organizations must evaluate their current corporate culture. There are both written and unwritten rules and behaviors that come into play. For example, Enron senior management demonstrated a lack of moral and ethical judgment that played a critical role in its decision-making (i.e. breaking laws).                                     

 

Enron in the boom days of the late 90’s

In addition to analyzing an individual’s personal behavior, individuals need to analyze the organization’s leadership and culture climate to see the big picture.  Therefore, ethical leadership becomes an essential ingredient for making a highly effective organization.    

State your professional experience with ethical leadership or lack of.

 

 © 2013 by Daryl D. Green

 

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36 thoughts on “Ethical Leadership in 2013

  1. The occasional political debate in the workplace is something that I feel is unavoidable. However, when the political debate becomes something that is no longer a friendly debate and instead turns into a heated and aggressive intent to offend other co-workers, it is then that I feel it becomes an ethical violation. I personally have become the target for one of these so-called political debates where a group of co-workers (including managers) engaged in harassment type actions that included racial slurs, and other inappropriate comments that were directed towards my political opinions. This type of harassment is unacceptable, and the fact that managers are engaging and encouraging this type of behavior is even worse. What type of message does it send to customers, suppliers, and other employees who witness this type of behavior? What message does it perceive when managers, are either participating or simply letting these actions unfold. According to Collins (2012) at least 22% of employees faced abusive or intimidating behavior in the workplace in 2009. This type of behavior is unacceptable and will cause low employee retention.

    Reference:
    Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    • Chris,

      Outstanding commentary on the state of morality in some organizations! What can highly effective organizations do to prevent this type of behavior by managers?

      Professor Green

      • Dr. Green,
        You asked, what can organizations do to prevent this type of behavior? I begin with this statement concerning harassment by Collins (2012) “ A one-time minor isolated incident does not qualify as harassment”. In this situation you have to consider the topic of conversation that began the harassment, politics. If this were just a one-time disagreement then an organization might just address the situation and move on. However if the behavior is repetitive then I might suggest that a guideline be written in the ethics manual that topics of religion and politics not be discussed at work, since for some people (not everyone) their views on these topics of very conflicting. Or allow the topics to be discussed only if the individuals discussing it ensure that no one in the group objects to the open discussion.

        Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    • Chris,
      You Stated:
      “I personally have become the target for one of these so-called political debates where a group of co-workers (including managers) engaged in harassment type actions that included racial slurs, and other inappropriate comments that were directed towards my political opinions.”
      My Response:
      Your co-workers sound like perfect examples of humans who are stuck in Kohlberg’s Preconventional Level of Moral Development because they were not taking your views or feelings into account during the discussion (Collins, 2012). This type of behavior at work should never be tolerated, and I really hope that you reported them.

      Collins, D. (2012). Business ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Danvers, MA: Wiley.

      • Josh, I agree with you about Chris’s situation.

        You stated: “This type of behavior at work should never be tolerated, and I really hope that you reported them.”

        My response:

        Researchers have found that 85 percent of employees had not reported an important issue or concern to their boss (Collins, 2013). This type of situation should be reported but the study found that employees did not report unethical behaviors because they were concerned about:
        • being labeled or viewed negatively by others, such as being considered a troublemaker,
        • the impact on their relationship with the individual being reported,
        • the repercussions to the individual being reported,
        • no action being taken by management (Collins, 2012).

        This builds a good case for all companies to implement an ethics hotline so employees can report unethical behavior anonymously.

        Reference:
        Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

  2. My professional experience in the work place is very slim. Therefore, to expound upon this question I am going to have to look back in to my days as a college baseball player when coaches were recruiting me. To help narrow down my choice of school I had to examine the ethical leadership of the coaches. One instance, a school made me an offer, and I told them I needed time to think about it. When I decide I would take the offer, the school changed the offer without telling me. To me this was unethical leadership by the coaches and from the school. Keller (2005) explains, “an ethical leader keeps their word an honors it” (para. 4). In conclusion, if leader make his or her decision base on their ethical values they will be able to prosper in their leadership role.
    Reference
    Kellar, E. K. (2005). 12 steps for ethical leadership. Public Management, 87(10), 2+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lmunet.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA138756215&v=2.1&u=tel_a_lmu&it=r&p=PPBE&sw=w

  3. There was a time with my current company in which a woman was hired into my department and placed under my supervision by an upper manager. We became friends and began hanging out outside of work. Before too long it was clear that a classic friends-in-the-workplace ethical dilemma was upon me. In our case it was because her friendship to me was tied too closely to career ambitions, at which point our friendship subsided.

    In many instances when a close relationship exists between a supervisor and a subordinate the subordinate finds themselves in a preferable and more promotable position. Unfortunately, in these instances the preference is oftentimes not a direct result of the subordinate’s knowledge or skill sets. As managers it is key to take recommendations that come from someone’s close friend with a grain of salt. While the suggestion that workplace friendships benefit both individuals and organizations as a tool for increasing workplace productivity is a well-received concept (indeed, horizontal and vertical interactions can be made more fluid through friendship), management should remain vigilant in recognizing the kind of friendships that cross ethical lines.

    Workplace Relations: Friendship Patterns and Consequences (According to Managers)
    Evan M. Berman, Jonathan P. West and Maurice N. Richter, Jr.
    Public Administration Review , Vol. 62, No. 2 (Mar. – Apr., 2002), pp. 217-230

    • Caleb,
      Thanks for the excellent example of a personal ethical dilemma!

      Companies put systems into place to influence (perhaps control) personal behavior. Many organizations frown on personal relationships within them. Yet, how do managers prevent these relationships from developing (supervisor-to-subordinate, co-workers, etc.)? Policies? Regulations?

      Or…should they attempt to stop them (it’s human nature)?

      Professor Green

      • Dr. Green,

        It is my opinion that in a professional work environment any restrictions on friendship forming will always have a negative impact. Stifling human nature with policies and regulations that effect who can and cannot be friends would result in a significant decline in morale. So long as a friendship is not distracting ones peers then I say leave it alone.

        Unethical business practices that can come about as a result of friendships in the workplace will never go away, but with careful hiring managers can limit their likelihood.

  4. As a manager at my company, part of my job is to be available and open to employees if they have complaints or need to report unethical behavior. I have found that until employees really feel comfortable with a supervisor they will wait as long as possible before reporting problems. Collins (2012) states that one of the main reasons for this is that employees do not trust their supervisors to investigate and/or correct the unethical behavior. I have been told this by multiple employees, and it is a difficult stigma to deal with. It is also the reason that I always make sure that I follow through when a problem is brought to my attention.

    Collins, D. (2012). Business ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Danvers, MA: Wiley.

    • Josh,
      You stated that, “until employees really feel comfortable with a supervisor they will wait as long as possible before reporting problems”. Most of the time I feel like this just makes the situation worse, tensions run and high and it makes it more difficult to solve the problem. I also liked that you stated that you follow through until the problem is resolved. According to Collins (2012) “trust is developed based on careful reflection of past experiences with organizational members and practices”. You are definitely building trust or breaking bonds by how you respond to the needs of your employees.

      Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    • Hi Josh-Being on the other side of the equation as the part of the employee I know first hand that your comment about employees waiting to report unethical behavior is valid. Collins (2012) relayed several reasons why employees do not report unethical behavior such as the fear of being lableled a tattle-tale, fear of damaging relationships, and fear of retaliation. Office politics can have devastating consequences for everyone involved. Some people like to stir the preverbeal pot but most people just want to do their jobs and go home at the end of the day without dealing with work drama.
      Reference: Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

  5. One example of unethical behavior dates back to my younger days. There was not actually anything unethical of management but I was put in a situation that made my co-workers think there was. I worked for a manufacturing company that packages pharmaceuticals. Most of the time I worked in the office as an HR assistant but during times of high demand for products I actually worked on the floor helping to package pharmaceutical supplies. Some workers on the packaging line befriended me and began talking about management in a negative manner. When I did not participate they assumed I didn’t like them and that management sent me out there to “spy” on them and report their behavior. None of this was true but it put me in a bad situation. I wanted to get along with my co-workers and be faithful to management as well. Needless to say, I had to do what was right in spite of the way I was perceived by my co-workers on the packaging line. Unfortunately, ethical dilemmas are dealt with in the workplace on a daily basis (Collins, 2012).

    Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    • Tammy,

      You made a great point!

      You stated:

      “Some workers on the packaging line befriended me and began talking about management in a negative manner. When I did not participate they assumed I didn’t like them and that management sent me out there to “spy” on them and report their behavior.

      My response:

      According to Collins (2012) “unethical discriminatory practices based on race or gender can occur in dealings with suppliers, employees, customers, the government, or the public” (p. 10). It sounds like you experienced discrimination based on the department you worked in. You were judged negatively because you chose to act ethically instead of being appreciated for helping out when you were needed.

      As leaders we face ethical decisions every day. After coaching an employee do we give them the benefit of the doubt or do we assume they are going to continue to make the same mistake. Do we treat them as though they have made and will continue to make mistakes? If so, our actions will not be any better than the actions of your previous co-workers.

      Reference: Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

  6. There is capability of good and bad in all of us. Teachers are not exception to this. In nursing school my Medical-Surgical teacher was completing her Master’s level nursing program at the sametime. She would often become frustrated trying to teach the nursing students the trade of being a competent nurse. One day she was attempting to teach the method of giving a patient a subcutaneous injection and almost jabbed the needle into my arm (she bent the needle by jabbing it into the table instead). Kohlberg’s Preconventional level of moral development, according to Collins (2012), suggest that at this stage decisions are based on the needs of the individual not society or other persons. By treating others as you want to be treated and always displaying good moral character a good ethical example is being demonstrated for future workers/practitioners. Therefore, with a little hope and encouragement maybe these future workers will continue to display good ethics while they are mentoring the future workers of their era. This thought leaves hope for a brighter future.
    Reference: Collins, D. (2012). Business ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Danvers, MA: Wiley.

    • Kathy,

      Your post casts light on the kinds of pressures leaders are placed in (or sometimes place themselves in). In the modern professional business environment demands are rigorous, whether it be the schooling a professional needs or the day-to-day duties of managing subordinates. I agree with Sean Hannah in his essay on Authentic Leadership where he suggests that ethical demands and challenges are at their highest in today’s globally competitive business environment, and as a result these challenges require leaders of the highest character. In my opinion working well under pressure is one of the truest tell-tale signs of a great leader.

      Reference:

      Relationships between Authentic Leadership, Moral Courage, and Ethical and Pro-Social Behaviors. (2011). Business Ethics Quarterly, 21(4), 555-578. .

  7. I learned the most about ethical business relationships when I worked in Media. Part of my job was on-site assistance at various concert venues. I was among several other young females working at this organization. Our manager who was male and very well connected in the field we were working in would often make comments to me or to other young women. He would often tell us that we were wanted on the artists’ tour bus before or after the show. I remember I prompty responded the first time I heard this with,” Oh I won’t do that, you don’t have to worry.” Because in my mind doing something that he was suggesting was a huge moral and ethical conflict. To him though it seemed it was almost as if that type of behavior was not only accepted but encouraged. I think that gaining this experience early on made me realize that compromising your moral and ethical beliefs will not get you ahead because no matter what there are always consequences.

      • I agree. It seems as though as time progresses we become less and less offended as a society. If they exist at all, I think this would be an example of a “downfall” of growth within your organization. There is much more to worry about when it comes to ethics.

  8. I have only worked two places in my entire life so my professional experience with ethical leadership maybe lacking just a little. However in saying that, I have a perfect example of how my current supervisor acted ethicallly in a situation that could have been handled differently. We had staff member within our department that claimed that they were being harrassed my upper management. This upper management just so happened to be the most important person within the whole organization. This harrassment had been going on for almost a year before the staff member decided that enough was enough and reported it. The harrassment started as little compliments that eventually led to sexual innuendos. When my supervisor was faced with this ethical dillemia, she immediately addressed the situation and took this harrassment very seriously. My supervisor had a decision to make at that point whether to ignore the situation or address it. She also had to think about her position as well and if she reports this issue would she be jeopardizing her job? According to Collins 2012, “63 percent of local government employees saw at least one form of ethical misconduct within the previous 12 months.” I was shocked by this number but I was also shocked at what happened in my local government organization as well. We as leaders must report these types unethical behaviors and not just sit back and ignore them. We must also as managers be approachable so we are aware of what is going on within our organization in order to resolve such issues.

    Collins, D. (2012). Business ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Danvers, MA: Wiley.

      • Dr. Green,

        You stated:

        How did the situation end for the person who claimed harassment and the organization as a whole?

        My response:

        The situation ended in a lawsuit which many of these cases often do. This type of situation was handled and taken very seriously and in return caused this harasser his job, his home and a lot of money in the long run. This situation majorly affected the organization as well. Our employee moral became very low, our reputation was ruined and our turnover increased. Out of this situation brought about change and new management which was the best thing for our organization at this time.

  9. Many years ago I worked with a lady who planned special recognition events and offsite meetings for managers of the company. As she organized and planned the theme events she would purchase additional items for herself that were not related to the event. As she coordinated the offsite meetings she would book a large suite for herself (nicer than her manager’s room) and also use company funds to obtain additional amenities. Collins (2012) reports, “the biggest source of retail industry theft is employees, not customers….The. U.S. Chamber of Commerce attributes one-third of annual business failures to employee theft and other personnel crimes” (p.12). This employee had been with the company more than 20 years and had earned the trust of her manager. She is the last person anyone would have suspected of this type of behavior. This situation taught me as a leader to ask questions and know what I am approving.

    Reference: Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

  10. The recent hail storm also caused many companies to act unethically. We have all heard the horror stories about fly-by-night roof repairs companies. However, there are many other industries whose actions were questionable as well. At our collision repair facility, we had many customers who came in for estimates to repair their vehicle that they had bought damaged by hail. The dealerships had convinced them that they were getting a “steal” on the very dented vehicle. The dealership would often discount the vehicle around $5,000, but the repairs were typically around $10,000. The customers are left with a dented vehicle or a large repair bill. The dealerships were already paid by insurance companies for their losses, so this was simply another sales pitch. Collins (2012) states, “A salesperson may declare more sales than actually achieved in a moth to obtain a bonus or avoid being fired”. It is important to realize that good people may act unethically because they must provide for their family and fear loosing their job. People are often caught in catch-22s that would cause them to act unethically.

    Collins, D. (2012). Business Ethics: How to design and manage ethical organizations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

  11. Ethics according to Daft is “the code of moral principles and values that governs the behaviors of a person or group with respect to what is right or wrong.” Working within a hospital I see multiple situations within any given day where a leader’s ethics are tested. The emergency room is the perfect example because these services are abused on a daily bases when someone comes in for what is considered a primary care visit. Within the hospital there is a policy that no one will be turned away that’s even if it is just a stuffed nose. This policy was created knowing that with these cases payment rarely reaches above 30% of charges incurred and also knowing that if a child is sent away the parents may not seek proper primary care services which could possibly have consequences due to lack of treatment. I have recently done a project on primary care visits to the emergency room and they constitute about 60% of billed visits in the emergency room.

    Reference: Daft, R. (2010). Management. Mason, OH: South-Western.

    • Jessica,

      Thanks for your post! I want to follow up on your comment: “I have recently done a project on primary care visits to the emergency room and they constitute about 60% of billed visits in the emergency room.”

      Do you feel health care is a human right or necessity as described by the current debate on Obamacare?

      ALL,
      Should hospitals be forced to cover these additional costs associated with paying for people who can’t afford health (i.e. in the emergency room in leiu of primary care visits)?

      Professor Green

  12. Ethics or the lack thereof

    Mc Farlin (2013) in her article notes that all decisions must be fair and personal preference should never enter into the decision making process. I agree and have a personal belief in equality and fairness. I faced an ethical dilemma when I was working with a firm where the manager would deliberately schedule his friends for over time while I was getting under 40hrs per week. This affected my productivity as I lacked motivation when I was at work. I had an “I don’t care” attitude and could not wait for my shifts to end so that I could leave work. This experience has taught me what not to do when I become a manager so I am happy I had this challenge because I now know how to handle this situation in the future.

    Reference
    Mc Farlin, K (2013) Hearst Newspaper Morals or Ethics in the workplace. Retrieved from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/morals-ethics-workplace-11363.html

  13. I graduated from college in 2010, and with many new graduates, I struggled to find immediate employment. As a month or so past, I really began to panic about finding employment, so I started leaning on friends and relatives for help in finding a job. My dad workds for the local government in my hometown and he was able to pull some strings and get me a full-time position.
    At the time, I did not comprehend the kind of ethical dilema I had just witnessed and taken part in. There were many people applying for the job I had received with much more experience than me. In this case, my father acted as a lobbyist on my behalf to the town leaders for me to gain employment. This unethical occurence led to feeling of discontent and views of nepotism between employees and the local town leadership. According to Steiner 2012, “A common failing is for mamagers to show by their actions that ethical duties may be compromised”.

    Reference:
    Steiner, John F., & Steiner, George A., (2012). Business, government, and society: A managerial perspective, (pp. 516-518). (13 ed.) New York, NY: McGraw Hill

  14. The first theory, The Great Man, was one of the first theories of leadership development and perhaps might explain leadership for a small number of people. A big event occurs and an individual takes charge and moves the direction of a country, movement, war, etc. For example Martin Luther King Jr. moves the Civil Rights moment to the edge of change and President Lincoln directs the course of the Civil War. A good leader in any organization should be able to influence their organization positively in order to further their primary mission.

  15. Perhaps its not our teaching of ethics that has led business practices in such a direction, but more the system itself. In order for many business to thrive and individuals to prosper within them, often people are taken advantage of or mistreated. Jaques (2003) suggests that the problems with ethics lies more in a lack of accountabilites and authorities and compensation systems that require selfish and sometimes corrupt behaviors to get ahead. For example many contractors and project managers hire friends to complete jobs or cut corners to save time. While these projects are often pass inspections initially they don’t always last. Ultimately these contractors or project managers don’t care about the long term ramifications because often these buildings and structures are sold or change hands. When problems arise it falls on those people down the road to recover from them.

    Jaques, Elliot. Ethics for Management. Management Communication Quarterly : McQ; Aug 2003; 17, 1; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 136

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