In this article we will continue to look at the importance of ethical leadership. Ethical leadership has to start at the top. The leader must set the trend. When the senior management themselves are implicated in wrongdoing, it becomes difficult to preach to the middle and entry-level employees about following ethical standards and practicing values.
In other words, when senior leadership does not practice what they preach, the ensuing hypocritical situation resembles chaos and confusion in these organizations.
Indeed, the ethical imperative must come from the top and the values must be inculcated by the senior management through personal example of honesty and transparency.
The point here is that when business leaders themselves become implicated in unethical practices, we can only speculate what would happen to those lower down the hierarchy who see no point in being ethical or transparent and practice values.
The examples of companies like Apple, Google, and Infosys are illustrative of how the senior management ought to lead by example. In all these companies, the founders of the companies ensured that they were setting high standards of ethical behaviour for the other employees to follow.
The point here is that the senior leadership must first raise the bar for ethical and value based behaviour and then ensure that the organizational structures and processes are established where any deviation from the norm is dealt with strictly.
In other words, the ethics and values must be institutionalized so that they become part of the organizational culture and are not person dependent.
After all, no individual is bigger than the organization and hence, the objective must be to establish leaders at all levels of the hierarchy who act as benchmarks for ethical and value based behaviour.
Returning to the main theme of the section that is what happens when the senior leadership becomes unethical. In that case, the organization loses its mojo or the motivation and the sense of purpose and as we have seen in the case of Enron in the US, Satyam Computers in India, and other companies in Asia, they either are wound up or become part of another company so that at least the organization in some basic form survives.
Indeed, this is a sad state of affairs where the organization suffers because of the senior management and this situation must be avoided at all costs.
Hence, the need for top management to institute and inculcate ethical and value-based behaviour becomes that much more important.
Finally, though ethics and values depend to a large extent on the the personality of the individual, the fact remains that organisational structures can help in fostering a sense of purpose and ethical attitudes. The key theme here is that when ethical behaviour is rewarded and incentives exist for the same and when unethical behaviour is punished and the organizational culture has zero tolerance towards the same, it is possible for organizations to follow lofty ideals.
Next week we will look at leadership and motivation.
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf said- ““The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”
The writer is a Kigali Based business consultant and strategist.