Ethics? Really?






“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”
— Samuel Johnson
We can all empathise with our latest article from Bill Spindloe of XpertLearning our regular CLO contributor.

There was a survey back in the early 90’s that asked people in the workforce across a large number of organisations what words they best felt constituted Leadership. The results were, for the time, unsurprising. Responses included words like ‘Ambitious’, ‘Decisive’, ‘Determined’. 20 something years later the same survey was conducted and not one of the words chosen in the 90’s was replicated. This time around we have ‘Relationship Builder’, ‘Collaborative’, ‘High-Integrity’. Apparently we didn’t expect our leaders at the end of the 20th Century to collaborate, build relationships or to have any integrity, or if we did, no one mentioned these sentiments in sufficient numbers so as to appear on the survey.

The emergence of large corporations with much to lose in the digital age, should the merest hint of impropriety besmirch their good name, are keen to show the world how much they all march forward under an ethical charter. As a result, the last few years have seen a large numbers of ‘Ethical Leadership’ type programs that promise to provide direction and advice on ethical codes and social responsibility, or how to balance the maximization of profit with non- economic, community concerns.

Company charters, vision and mission statements these days are rammed full of words like Honesty, Transparency, Accountability and Objectivity and frankly a great many of them are beginning to sound more like a cheap attempt at bolstering marketing capital, than any sort of heartfelt dedication to an ethical cause. All this, and yet there barely seems to be a week goes by without the naming and shaming in the media of some high flying executive, who has been caught breaching some or other perceived moral or ethical code, and yet still leaving with a nice 7 figure severance package.

In the not too distant past ,I worked with a large company, where, in the very early days of my employment was confronted head -on with evidence, of what would be in anyone’s book, a serious moral and legal issue. The information came from a company we dealt with, and feeling I had an obligation, I quietly went with this information to my boss. What I did not expect was the reaction it received. I was accused of everything from wanting to smear the name of this manager in order to take his job to trying to bring down the company. Not quite the response I expected, or felt this quite frankly disgusting revelation deserved. For myself, to coin a phrase, my copybook was blotted. I was going nowhere in this company from that point forward. The whole sordid event was covered up, and I was forced to come to the conclusion that I needed to leave. I am sure I am not alone. I am doubly sure that there are many, many people out there who were similarly treated, believing they were doing the right thing. The irony was, that this division won recognition that year for its promotion of Ethical Standards by some civic minded Rotarians.

The fact is, that using words like Integrity, Ethical, Corporate Responsibilty, doesn’t make you an ethical leader or and ethical organisation. At your next management meeting throw the question out to those with whom you work ,‘ What are Ethics in business?’ see how many manage to capture any real flavour or understanding. Then let’s really look to educate our future leaders on their moral and fiduciary responsibilities rather than teaching them what buzz words to throw out there.

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