The key to having an ethically run company is employing morally upstanding leaders, a new book suggests.
In her new book "7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership (Leading in Context, 2013)," author Linda Fisher Thornton says getting employees to act ethically in the workplace starts at the top.
"It begins with ethical leadership," Thornton said. "Ethical leaders have a tremendous impact on how people in their organizations behave and what they achieve."
Thornton believes that those who succeed in leading ethically not only improve their business and culture, but also help make a difference in the world.
"Effective leaders focus on what’s right and exemplify to their people that they are there to help, and not to exploit the vulnerabilities of others," she said. "Their organizations typically respond to their example and their desire to serve others and make a positive difference."
In her book, Thornton offers practical advice on the most important actions leaders can take to integrate ethical conduct into their organizations.
Face the complexity involved in making ethical choices
Openly discuss the ethical gray areas and acknowledge the complexity of work life. Involve others in more of the ethical decisions. Be a leader who talks about the difficult ethical choices, and help others learn to take responsibility for making ethical decisions carefully.
Don't separate ethics from day-to-day business
Leaders must make it clear to their employees that ethics is "the way we operate" and not a training program or reference manual. Every activity, whether it is a training program, a client meeting or an important top management strategy session, should include conversations about ethics.
Don't allow negative interpersonal behaviors to erode trust
Make respect a load-bearing beam in your culture. Be an ethical leader who expects it and practices it. Cultivate a respectful environment in which people can speak up about ethics and share the responsibility for living it. Build trust, demand open communication and share the ownership of organizational values.
Don't think about ethics as just following laws and regulations
Leaders need to take action and show consumers and other stakeholders that they are actively engaged with ethical issues that matter. Recognize how ethics influences consumers' reasons to buy from you, and demonstrate a commitment to go beyond mere compliance with laws and regulations. They must prove that they are committed to ethical issues, including human rights, social justice and sustainability.
Don't exempt anyone from meeting ethical expectations
Allow no excuses. Make sure that no one is exempted from meeting the ethical standards that are adopted. Maintain the status of ethics as a total, absolute, "must do" in the organization. Hold everyone, particularly senior leaders and high profile managers, accountable. No exceptions.
Celebrate positive ethical moments
Be a proactive ethical leader, championing high ethical conduct and emphasizing prevention. Managers should talk about what positive ethics looks like in practice as often as they talk about what to avoid. Take time to celebrate positive ethical choices.
Talk about ethics as an ongoing learning journey, not a once-a-year training program
Integrate ethics into every action of the organization — everything people do, touch or influence. Talk about ethics as an ongoing learning journey, not something you have or don't have. Recognize that the world changes constantly, and that ethical conduct requires that everyone remain vigilant.
A former bank senior vice resident and chief learning officer, Thornton runs her own leadership consulting practice and teaches as an adjunct assistant professor for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies.