Monday, April 13, 2015

Leadership Development Program: Ethical Leadership

This post is part of a series on leadership development.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently participating in a Leadership Development Program (LDP) as part of my work at Franklin University. This week, I attended a presentation by Dr. Alex Heckman, the Chair of the Department of Public Administration in the College of Health and Public Administration at Franklin. Dr. Heckman's presentation was focused around the topic of ethics in leadership, and below are my notes from the presentation. These notes are mine, though much of what I write below is taken from his presentation.

Dr. Alex Heckman presented on Ethics in Leadership.
Ethics can be considered applicable to two entities: the individual, and the organization. From the individual perspective, the question is: Who are you and how will you act? From the organizational perspective: How are you and your organization acting? Policies and procedures that are ethical and create a “virtuous cycle” moving us toward good.

4 General Approaches to Ethics
There are 4 general approaches to making decisions that are ethical. These include:
  1. Outcome based – “What will be the outcome of my action?” The difficulty is that the outcome might not be clear. The "butterfly effect" holds – one small action here might have a massive impact somewhere else.
  2. Rules based – “Follow the policies and procedures.” There is some perceived safety in this approach - however, the issue is that we might come up with rules for every single situation, which might have negative consequences overall. This also runs the risk of subduing an individual or organization’s creativity in making decisions that are meaningful. Dr. Heckman believes that Rules send the message that we don’t trust people. However, principles set guidelines for making decisions but don’t tell people exactly what to do. I tend to believe n the power of principles and think they can provide excellent guidance while empowering others.
  3. Character based – “Characteristics or virtues you are demonstrating.” These include courage, virtue, faith, etc. Setting a mission statement that outlines the values you espouse can give you a set of guiding principles
  4. Care based – “How will this affect the relationships in my life?” The goal here is to maintain positive relationships with others.
I find that people likely use more than one of these approaches, depending on the situation they are in. However, as I reflect, doesn't that really add up to being outcome based? I mean, if you select a "care-based" approach so that you can maintain a positive relationship, haven't you just employed an outcomes-based approach in the selection of the approach itself? Are we all using a meta-outcomes based approach?

What are Ethical Dilemmas?
An ethical dilemma is a situation in which any decision appears to conflict with moral or ethical standards. Dr. Heckman notes that to deal effectively with ethical dilemmas, you must first recognize that there is an ethical dilemma. Next, work to make the decision by talking with people, discussing alternative solutions, and working toward the most appropriate solution. There are often many more options than you first realize – you don’t necessarily only have two decisions to make. Dr. Heckman notes that talking with others lightens the load – if you get a sense of agreement with others, it can help you feel better about it.  The final step is to take action on the ethical dilemma based on the decision you have made.

Typical Ethical Dilemmas – “right vs. right”
Below are dilemmas that you might find yourself in.
  • Truth vs. Loyalty – this is the dilemma of truth-telling versus being loyal to your cohorts. Think of the question “Don’t you just love my gown?” As another example, the fighter pilot who is shot down and interrogated would likely be more loyal to his fellow-fighters (not sharing secrets to the enemy) than truthful. An example was given of a leader that often misrepresents and inflates the accomplishments and capacity of an organization to visitors. How should the individual respond to the leader? Tell the truth right there, or show loyalty by not interrupting? It is a dilemma!
  • Individual vs. Community – The good for the community might be bad for the individual, and the good for the individual might be bad for the community. Example -the old lady who can’t learn the computer but is dragging the organization down. Do you fire that lady, or do you keep her?
  • Short Term vs. long Term – Putting a child through college – it will have great long-term benefits, but in the short-term you need to pay the bills. If you always default to the short-term, there will be no long-term. If you always default to the long-term, you will starve.
  • Justice vs. Mercy – The expectation is what justice is based on. The exception is what mercy is based on. You cannot have all justice, and you cannot have all mercy. Example – excellent, effective workers who have been committing “time theft” by surfing the internet or running errands during the workday. 
"Should I address this issue?"
If you are confronted with an ethical dilemma and wonder whether you should act, you should consider the following:
  • Severity of the harm – how serious is the damage or danger? Will people or property be harmed? Is human life threatened? More severity means more responsibility in addressing the problem.
  • Certainty of the harm – what is the likelihood that this harm will happen? If the chance is high, I have a responsibility to act on the problem or danger.
  • Degree of involvement – did I cause or create the danger? Am I part of the community? Am I the only person who has the chance or power act on the danger?
  • Cost of acting to address problem – what will it cost me to take responsibility? What risks do I run in addressing the problem?
  • Certainty of the solution – how certain am I that my solution will actually address the danger?        

To be an effective leader, you must be strong ethically.

30 Seconds of Reflection
We have been doing 30 seconds of reflection at the end of each leadership session. Here is what I wrote for this one: I was surprised how much I enjoyed the discussion. When I saw the title of the discussion, I didn’t initially find interest in the topic. However, the presentation was interesting and helped me think about my own situations and helped me to start to think about how I make decisions. I hope that I am always ethical in my decisions, and I would like to continue to learn about these principles so that I can be more effective in my decision-making.

Previous Leadership Development Program presentations:


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