There has been a lot of discussion in one of my Linked-In groups about leadership and ethics. The context has been the abysmal behavior by AIG executives and Bernie Madoff, and some of the commentary has revolved around the concept of "leadership means standing up for what is right." While I can buy this perspective as part of my own concept of leadership, when we go in this direction we overreach the definition of leadership. Leadership means leading others - it doesn't include a definition of goodness, badness, or ethics. It just means that other people are following you.
We look for a pairing of leadership and ethics when we look for leaders to admire, but what are ethics, anyway? By definition they are a moral code for behavior. It doesn't define THE code for moral behavior - my ethics might be different than yours. When we look at others to be models of ethical behavior we look for examples of ethics that match our own. It's not a black-and white issue. Are there ethics that are more ethical? Again, probably there are - when they agree with mine, and I'm only being a little bit facetious.
A compatible ethical framework can be one of the criteria that draws followers to leaders, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the framework is "good." One of the other criteria that attracts followers to leaders is when leaders are able to accomplish the desired results. For some people the means to the end and its ethics aren't as important as the end itself, so they fall in behind some pretty sketchy characters as long as they are getting what they want.
Every religion has its own ethical code, and many of the tenets are shared among them, such as individual accountability for right behavior. In the secular world, I've found the Rotary International four-way test to be a simple approach to create ethical transactions, regardless of the participants' religious background.
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build good will and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Do you consider yourself to be ethical? Are you that way
- All the time?
- Most of the time?
- Some of the time?
Most people answer "most of the time." Imagine the potential for improvement in our world if instead of most of the time we would always use an ethical framework as the foundation for our actions...