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Adopting a Culture of Ethics: Leadership, Ethics and Governance

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Governance Based on Ethical Values

Governance Based on Ethical Values

  • By Samuel LJ

Within the month of March 2018, issues relating to leadership and governance were brought before and were adjudicated by the Courts.
It was interesting to read the legal arguments and reasoning given by the Courts. Whilst these decisions may be subject to legal proceedings (appeal), a discussion on Leadership, Ethics and Governance is appropriate. Interestingly, a Member of Parliament has come out publicly to state that certain actions within Parliament can be deemed to be bribery or are bribes.
What is Ethical Leadership? Leaders are defined in the Leadership Code Act and ethical leaders can be defined as leadership that is directed by respect for ethical beliefs and values and for the dignity and rights of others. It is thus related to concepts such as trust, honesty, consideration, charisma and fairness.

Ethics is concerned with the kinds of values and morals an individual or a society finds desirable or appropriate. Furthermore, ethics is concerned with the virtuousness of individuals and their motives. A leader’s choices are also influenced by their moral development.

A Leader is a Trustee. As an individual a leader must balance his or her role as a representative of the Constituent who elected them into office or his or her political party and his or her role as member of the Government or Opposition.
The clear message is that leadership is not a solo performance. It is not a style. Indeed ethical leadership is very much a reflection of how Leaders respect and nurture relationships for the common good. How do we move from “I” to “We”? How do we add value so that the successful work of the team as a whole far exceeds what can be accomplished by any single Leader (member) acting alone?
To understand the importance for the need of ethical governance let us first try to understand the meaning of governance.
“Governance” has been defined to refer to structures and processes that are designed to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, rule of law, stability, equity and inclusiveness, empowerment, and broad-based participation. Governance also represents the norms, values and rules of the game through which public affairs are managed in a manner that is transparent, participatory, inclusive and responsive. Governance therefore can be subtle and may not be easily observable. “
In a broad sense, governance is about the culture and institutional environment in which citizens and stakeholders interact among themselves and participate in public affairs. It is more than the organs of the government.
Governance embraces the highest levels of effectiveness and, for each leader, it involves a commitment to ethical leadership, to continuous learning and to long term development.
Leaders and Leadership in Governance should look at creating an ethical culture to create the basis for standards of behaviour that should become part of the underlying policy principles of the Leaders and the institutions they serve.
The tone set by Leaders influences how followers or subordinates respond to ethical challenges and is enhanced by ethical leadership. When leaders are perceived as trustworthy, followers trust increases; leaders are seen as ethical and as honouring a higher level of duties. Followers identify with the organization’s values and the likely outcome is high individual ethics; high organization ethics; and a lack of disagreements.
If the tone set by Leaders upholds ethics and integrity, followers or subordinates will be more inclined to uphold those same values. However, if Leaders appear unconcerned about ethics and focuses solely on the bottom line, followers or subordinates will be more prone to commit unethical acts.
When we think about workplace ethics, the first thing that comes to mind is a code of conduct that influences the development of an ethical culture in the workplace. A code goes beyond what is legal for an organization and provides normative guidelines for ethical conduct. Support for ethical behaviour from Leaders is a critical component of fostering an ethical climate. Followers or subordinates who sense that Leaders act unethically quickly lose trust in Leadership. The result can be to become disillusioned with the goals of the organization and question whether the corporate culture is one that is consistent with individual, personal values and beliefs.
The hardest step to take in an Organization is to blow the whistle on wrongdoing by a fellow leader or a fellow follower. Yet, that is precisely what leaders are required to do as moral agents. They do not want to get caught up in compromising their values for convenience or the (real) fear that they might lose your job. Often, the would-be whistle blower are pressured ‘to go along to get along.’ The problem is once a leader stays silent about wrongdoing, it becomes more difficult to blow the whistle at a later date on similar instances because their failure to act initially. One does not want to be known as part of the cover-up of an unethical, even illegal, act at an earlier date.
In ethics, it’s important not to take the first step down the proverbial ethical slippery slope because if you do, and sanction wrongful behaviour by your silence, it becomes more difficult later on to reverse course and take the ethical highway.

So it is important to create an ethical organizational Culture and these are some practical ways that can be adopted:

1. Be a role model and be visible. Followers will look to the behaviour of Leaders as a model of what’s acceptable behaviour in the Organization. When Leaders are observed (by subordinates) to take the ethical high road, it sends a positive message for all followers.
2. Communicate ethical expectations. Ethical ambiguities can be reduced by creating and disseminating an organizational code of ethics. It should state the organization’s primary values and the ethical rules that employees are expected to follow. Remember, however, that a code of ethics is worthless if leaders fails to model ethical behaviours.
3. Offer ethics training. Set up seminars, workshops, and similar ethical training programs. Use these training sessions to reinforce the organization’s standards of conduct, to clarify what practices are and are not permissible, and to address possible ethical dilemmas.
4. Visibly reward ethical acts and punish unethical ones. Performance appraisals of managers should include a point-by-point evaluation of how his or her decisions measure up against the organization’s code of ethics. Appraisals must include the means taken to achieve goals as well as the ends themselves. People who act ethically should be visibly rewarded for their behaviours. Just as importantly, unethical acts should be punished.
5. Provide protective mechanisms. The organization needs to provide formal mechanisms so that employees can discuss ethical dilemmas and report unethical behaviour without fear of reprimand.
It is good for leaders to remind themselves that a leader perceived to lack integrity or to operate in an unethical, immoral manner soon loses the support of followers, subordinates and the community at large.
Source: Vanuatu Daily Post

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