Ethics is defined as follows in the Oxford Dictionary:
A set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct:
It therefore follows that the concept of ethics has come to mean various things to different people. In a work place or business environment, it could very generally be portrayed as coming to know what it right or wrong, and then having established these two polar opposites, doing what is right, at times even how unpalatable or at the risk of making yourself unpopular. That goes hand in hand with leadership. Many people still despise the late Margaret Thatcher. Primarily because she was a leader capable of making tough choices and sticking to them. It could probably follow that how you determine your own moral compass would determine how you establish what is right or wrong.
In a business sense added to this is the moral fibre of the person. You could almost use the test of “Would I like this person in the trenches with me in a war?”
Moral fibre can be loosely defined as having the inner strength to do what you believe to be right in difficult situations. We have already established that ethics is knowing right from wrong; and doing what is right.
By way of an example.
If a member of your staff undertook a review of an account with a supplier that had become protracted and disputed, with contemporaries that were involved and they as a collective defined a position that in the spirit of mutual trust and co-operation was right for both parties. if you lacked moral fibre you may ignore this advice. Would that be ethical?
It would be if you fundamentally disagreed with fact and discussed this openly and honestly with the staff who undertook the review of what has been previously assessed. However if you knew that what had been formulated was broadly (as these subjects are always a matter of fine line interpretation) correct, then ethically this is the position that should be defended, particularly if you are senior management which by definition is a leadership role.
American Management Consultants and authors of “The Ten Step Method of Decision-Making,” Jon Pekel and Doug Wallace asserted that the attention to business ethics is critical during times of fundamental change. With the current volatility from both economic pressures and the march of technology this is a time of fundamental change for both non-profit and for-profit business.
In times of fundamental change, values that were previously taken for granted are now strongly questioned. Many of the values of decision making and their ethical basis are no longer followed. Is this right?
If we follow on with our hypothetical example, and our Senior Manager ignores what has been produced in a structured and logical sequence. Is this ethical? Does it show the senior manager lacks in moral fibre and call into question the very concept of him being a leader?
For the business in question, you have to challenge what this will then do to the motivation of the staff, as its human nature to be valued. This applies to evolved species such as human beings and even less evolved such as domesticated animals. It shows how leadership is not a single discipline but an amalgamation of a large number of human traits and functions.
If we use sport as an analogy. The Springbok rugby team of South Africa for a period from 2004 to 2011 had John Smit, as Captain. In his position on the field he was never the best player available, but he was by such a distance the clear leader of men, that he had to be included in the side because he was a leader. His performance on the field would never put the team at a disadvantage, but without him they were a lesser side because of his calm under pressure and inspirational approach. The 2007 Rugby World Cup Quarter Final match against Fuji exemplified this. Smit’s inspiring words behind the posts when South Africa were under extreme pressure of losing the match saw the game turned around and effectively the tournament as a whole was won then, because the leadership of the Captain inspired confidence in the team that they could do it.
Perhaps most important, attention to ethics in the workplaces helps ensure that when leaders are struggling in times of crises and confusion, they retain a strong moral compass. This helps them make the right decision without any longer term impacts that could put the business in a weaker or vulnerable position.