Developing Ethical Leadership
A common theme found in a number of articles, books, and other literature concerned with business ethics is purpose. In their paper on ethical leadership, Freeman and Stewart (2006) suggest that a common purpose perceived by all stakeholders, in any enterprise or undertaking, is vital for its wellbeing and success. An attempt to understand the broad strokes of this perception is made here, with a particular interest in how it affects businesses and business people. It is very important for the corporate individual to understand and develop a personal sense of ethics in order to succeed (Freeman & Stewart 2).
In his book Ethical Leadership: The Quest for Character, Civility and Community, Walter E Fluker states that the concept of ethical leadership does not spring from nowhere, but is grounded in historical tradition. Memorable corporate, community and political leaders – those who create lasting identities and respect – do it through taking on the wisdom, habits and practices of those who went before them (Fluker 33). So those embarking on a career in business would do well to study the practices of prosperous and fruitful corporate identities within their fields of endeavor, and find out how the way they operated led to success. The ultimate concern of any undertaking must be viewed through the question of ethics: how an undertaking and the way it is directed affects those who direct and work on it, and those for whose use it is intended (Fluker 34).
The all-important aspect of upright and conscious character, and the notion of dealing honestly and openly in all aspects of business, is what W.E. Fluker suggests leads to brilliant outcomes, because the relationships of people in business is what generates successful material outcomes (Fluker 61).
Ethical behavior is all to do with people, not with insentient things, objects, or items. A container-full of merchandise has no feelings, no intent, and no purpose. The people who are involved in the sourcing, manufacture, and trading of the merchandise, however, need to deal with each other in an ethical way to ensure that the exchanges that take place between its creation and subsequent use by the consumer are all above-board and principled, and so, successful (Freeman & Stewart 5).
Because of the human aspect of ethics and its links to business success, corporate leaders must be careful about their behaviors, and how they address problems. They must steer undertakings and projects towards their planned conclusions in a principled and disciplined way. Most importantly, they must make sure they are persuasive about the common purpose all stakeholders have in any project (Freeman & Stewart 11).
It is problematic, writes Terry Price (2009), in his book on leadership ethics, when project managers, chief executive officers (CEOs) or directors of companies identify themselves with great historical leaders, political celebrities, or legendary figures (Price 3). Being committed to the fruitfulness of a project equates to the success of the group of people concerned with its outcome. So, modern day leaders must not distance themselves from the welfare of those upon whom they depend for the success of their project. Because if the human power behind a project fails, the whole undertaking can easily collapse (Price 4).
The successful completion of any project, plan, or concern depends directly on the people steering it towards its end (Freeman & Stewart 10). The leaders of these people must understand the importance of honesty, directness, trustworthiness, and decency if they are to chalk up any sort of useful result.
It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether an action or decision is right or wrong, because modern thought is based on relativism (Price 16) – that is, how bad or good something is compared with the usefulness of its outcome. In spite of this, it is possible for managers, CEOs, and directors to come up with their own specific code of ethics that balances well with the expectations of all the people with whom they deal. These might be peers, employees, suppliers, or clients, with whom they must interact towards completion of a specific project.