Developing Ethical Leadership
A common theme found in a number of articles, books, and other literature concerning business ethics is purpose. In their paper on ethical leadership, Freeman and Stewart suggest that a common purpose perceived by all stakeholders, in any enterprise or undertaking, is vital for its well being 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 (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 anywhere, 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 (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 (34).
The all-important aspect of the 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 are what generates successful material outcomes (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 and 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 and Stewart 11).
It is problematic, according to Terry Price, 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 (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 (4).
The successful completion of any project, plan, or concern depends directly on the people steering it towards its end (Freeman and 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, that is, how bad or good something is compared with the usefulness of its outcome (Price 16). 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 they must interact with to complete a specific project.