Leadership Ethics: It Doesn’t Depend
Do you want high morale at work? Be ethical.
Imagine recent outcomes at GM, and Toyota before it, if some frontline engineer – or even assembly line worker – used the company Intranet to say “Hey, CEO, there’s a fundamental design problem with (fill in the blank),” …and the CEO stopped production while the glitch was fixed, even if that meant months of stalled production.
Ethics today save you money tomorrow. But that’s not all. Ethics today makes you more money, every day of the year, for generations.
- Because your workers at all levels care, and so they pitch in with zest to make your company great.
- They think about improving your firm all week long, and they bring those off-hour innovations to work.
- They bring you their most talented friends at hiring time, and you don’t have to bribe them to do it.
- They represent your brand with pride in person and on social media, without your even realizing it.
- Your customers stay with you because you stand for something too few companies do.
- New customers seek you out, because they love what you stand for.
- In times of trouble, your employees, your customers, your vendors, and the community all stay with you, even pitch in to see you through it, because they believe in you.
Ethics today saves you money tomorrow. But that’s not all. Ethics today makes you more money, every day of the year, for generations.
Can you put a price tag on that? Can you measure it? Perhaps you could by tracking long-term survival, or profitability, or maybe stock price, as some funds like Parnassus do. I’ll leave that up to you.
All I know is, a lot of the business leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with over my career don’t actually worry about such things. It used to amaze me when a leader would say, “We just want to do the right thing because it’s right, that’s all.” At first I was even skeptical, much to my embarrassment. But now I get it.
Do you want to succeed in business? Then adopt this one essential maxim and propagate it throughout your culture:
Do The Right Thing. Always.
There’s no “it depends” to this. It’s a guiding principle for your own leadership, for your executives and managers, and ultimately for your frontline workers. Want all those benefits outlined in the bullets above? Create an organization-wide fundamental ethic of ethics.
How? It starts at the top. Yes, at the very top. It starts with the CEO’s boss, the board of directors, especially with the chairman of the board.
The chair has to lead with unimpeachable character, or nobody’s going to take her seriously when she demands similar ethics from fellow board members – which she must do, or they will have no moral authority by which to hold their CEO accountable.
Remember, this rule applies in business every bit as much as in childrearing: Do as I do, not just as I say.
The ethic of ethics must be upheld by the CEO, to keep the rest of the C-suite honest. Too many times I’ve heard a CEO confide, “My CMO is a little shady, but hey, that’s marketing, right?” Wrong! Same thing with the head of sales, or with the chief legal council, who too often ask only what is legal, not what is right. No position is free of the risk of questionable ethics.
Do The Right Thing. Always. It is a principle that needs teeth, of course – you can’t tolerate bad actors. But much more importantly, it requires positive reinforcement. Foster a culture where calling out the right actions, rather than the expedient ones, earns employees at all levels recognition and even promotion. After all, no one buys lip service. If you want to get more of something, you’ve got to encourage it. That goes for “You,” the C-level leader, “You,” the middle manager, “You,” the frontline leader, and even “You,” the peer.
Too often when we speak of workplace morale, we talk about superficial aspects of work, like parties, earned time off, perks such as quiet pods and foosball tables. But the truth is, employees at all level of an organization will pass up all of that stuff if they can just work in a company they believe in. One that isn’t evil. One that isn’t morally neutral. One that is dedicated to being a force for good in the world, starting right within the workplace.
Foster a culture where calling out the right actions, rather than the expedient ones, earns employees at all levels recognition and even promotion.
Do you really want your company to thrive? Do The Right Thing. Always. And uphold the others you work with to, as well.
Live this yourself. Make it your leadership mantra, no matter your position within the organization. Expect it of those you work with, including those above you on the corporate pyramid. If they ever fail you, move on.
And expect your employees to do the same.
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