Is Your Leadership Enhancing the Ethical Climate of Your Company?
In a free market system, commercial exchanges are based on trust. The companies and clients you do business with trust you to deliver quality goods or services in a timely manner at the price agreed on. If you fail to maintain your clients’ trust, you’ll soon find yourself embroiled in litigation and eventually out of business.
Trust is also important within your company. Management must be able to trust its workers and vice versa. When trust breaks down, so does morale, and a “me first” attitude comes to dominate the company culture. Employees at every level no longer take pride in the organization and do not “go the extra mile” to ensure quality. Instead, they seek to gain short-term, personal advantages any way they can, leading to misconduct that damages the company and hurts fellow employees. Often called “deviant workplace behavior,” this misconduct includes:
- Stealing from the company
- Vandalism of company property
- Sexual harassment
- Verbal abuse of subordinates and coworkers
- Physical battery
- Poor customer and client interactions
- Noncompliance with regulatory requirements
- Deliberate underperformance, such as leaving work early, arriving late, taking unnecessary sick days, taking extended breaks and slow-walking projects to completion
As you can imagine, deviant workplace behavior is extremely costly to a company. Each year, companies across America lose hundreds of millions of dollars due to employee theft, lower productivity and civil liability. In response to this, companies are becoming much more cognizant of the importance of ethical leadership in the workplace. Executives and middle managers are no longer assessed on objective metrics alone; assessments often include whether a leader is living the values of the company and promoting an ethical climate in the workplace.
Ethical leadership has been cited as a positive force for establishing an ethical workplace culture in which workers are more conscientious, industrious, mutually supportive and productive. So how does your leadership rate when it comes to business ethics? Here are some steps you can take to improve your performance in this important area:
- Review the company Code of Ethics — Every business should have a Code of Ethics that explains the type of behavior it expects from its employees from the top to the bottom of the organization. Values in the Code often include punctuality, honesty, transparency, mutual respect, and a commitment to quality. Unfortunately, not enough companies emphasize their Code as integral to the way they conduct business. If your company has no Code, or the existing Code is lacking, take a look online at the Codes of companies whose commitment to excellence you trust, and adopt their values as your own personal Code.
- Reflect on how you model the Code — Living examples are always more powerful than written or spoken statements. Make a list of the ways you could live the Code to present an ethical example to your coworkers.
- Reflect on how your communication style promotes the values in the Code — A leader has to promote an atmosphere of respect, where everyone feels valued. Sarcasm, negativity, and displays of temper are just a few ways leaders lose the respect of their subordinates. Your communication should provide positive motivation for your workers to excel.
- Recognize subordinates who live the values of the company — Public recognition for a job well done or effort above and beyond provides a strong affirmation for the worker you single out for a compliment, and presents a concrete example of the values you expect from your other workers.
- Make ethics part of your team’s performance assessment — Leaders are charged with evaluating their subordinates’ performance. But rather than evaluating workers on objective metrics, you should also let them know they will be assessed on their commitment to the company’s values.
- Seek advice and feedback from positive leaders — If there are leaders at your company who set a strong example, ask them for feedback on your efforts. Not only are you likely to get sound practical advice, but you’ll be sending a strong signal that you are committed to promoting the company’s Code of Ethics.
Corporate leadership is a learned skill, and unfortunately too few business schools teach business ethics in any meaningful way. But if you want to eliminate deviant behavior in your workplace and advance in your career, it’s vitally important to be seen as an ethical leader.
You might also want to look into leadership coaching from a Wellbeing Coach. A certified coach can provide trustworthy guidance and reliable feedback to help you grow in skill and confidence.
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