Illustrating how to be an ethical leader, with Senior Director for Leadership Ethics, Ann Skeet

“More and more, leaders are being held responsible in their organizations,” says Ann Skeet, Senior Director for Leadership Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Ann leads a leadership and business ethics program and launched the center’s program in social sector ethics programs, and researches, writes, and speaks about the ethical dilemmas of leaders. She understands the impact that a leader’s value and character have on the livelihood of their organization and the employees within it.

Ann provides the YLAI Network an overview of the important ways individuals can lead ethically and responsibly and how they can set the framework for an ethical organization.

Establishing a moral culture

Self-reflection and self-assessment are the most important behaviors demonstrated in an ethical leader, says Ann. Leaders should ask themselves, “what can I do that would encourage ethics in my organization?” and they should reflect on their behaviors and their culture, understanding how they impact their organization and their peers continually throughout their careers.

Leaders that are solely focused on themselves do not perform as well as those focused on the wellbeing of the organization and the employees, as exhibited in this study measuring the moral principles of CEOs. CEOs who exemplified and demonstrated the traits of integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion see a stronger performance of their company over time.

Ann acknowledges that there are certain conditions that make it more likely to build a more ethical framework when developing a culture for your organization. This includes establishing a sense of responsibility to society, recognizing that each person has their own moral autonomy, and setting up ethical deliberation. This will result in more individuals who have the sense that they can foster ethics themselves, delegate and share responsibilities, and be a part of decision making in the company. Individuals that invest in their sense of community and culture will influence the systemic promotion of ethical behavior.

The practice of ethical leadership

In Ann’s model, The Practice of Ethical Leadership, she establishes the six ways to influence an ethical workplace:

  1. Modeling character and values
  2. Creating community
  3. Encouraging ethical conduct
  4. Playing your position
  5. Clarifying your culture
  6. Designing the system

Creating a strong ethical culture requires leaders to invest in their community and help people to get a shared view, generally by establishing values and a mission statement or code of conduct that is created with the company members all involved. Leaders need to develop awareness and signal the virtues and values they have and develop policies early on, with shared belief, with those in mind.

One of the essential steps to be an ethical leader is to invest in the relationships you have with the people you are working with. While many leaders organize their priorities by thinking of the tasks first, followed by the processes, and then the people, Ann recommends altering this practice to focus on people first, followed by the processes, then the tasks.

Investing in ethics

Ann recommends YLAI Network members understand and practice establishing this framework, at any stage in their professional life. She advises members to ask themselves questions about their values early on. Entrepreneurs can often be so focused on their many various stressors and pressures, so they can have a tendency to resist some things like establishing a code of conduct or invest in the development of mission and values.

However, individuals who take the time to establish their ethical framework with their business early on will see a stronger and more ethical organization. A leader who says “I am going to invest in ethics” at the start of their organization, is going to see dividends in the long term.

 

Make sure to read more from Ann on ethical decision making, and keep up with YLAI for Integrity content to learn more about how to uphold ethical behavior and transparency in the workplace.