What Differentiates Ethical Leaders from Non-Ethical Leaders

Ethical leaders appear to be few and far between these days. Instead of offering theoretical input on the topic this post is about what I have personally observed among executives.

Non-ethical leaders

There are some common signs among non-ethical leaders. Being cut-throat and calculating is quite typical. Trevor only has one aim in mind: making money. When he meets people he is quick to assess whether there is a potential business deal. He is not the slight bit interested in building relationships. He wants to sign up a deal and quickly move on to the next. It is difficult to build rapport with Trevor as he prefers to keep people at a distance.

Jacques is a political player. So he is very selective about the circles in which he moves. He likes to name drop. His motivation in business is status, money and recognition. He uses people to achieve his objectives. As a result his relationships are very superficial. Individuals recognise that he uses false praise to gain their co-operation. Although he will deny it self-gain is his motivation. He is not honest with himself and wears a mask when interacting with others. His life is filled with pretense.

There are several other examples I could cite. However, the common themes that I have observed include: being ego driven and using force and coercion to achieve their goals. Non-ethical leaders are calculating and do what serves their interests best. Little if no thought is given to the impact of actions on people or the greater team.

Non-ethical leaders do not care what others think of them. In fact they are quick to deflect any concerns. Paul was head of a company that offered well-being services to various industries. His approach was to pressurise companies to reduce the number of sessions offered to staff. This practice would boost his profits. So obviously his company did well financially but at the expense of the target group he was meant to serve! This did not bother him at all.

These leaders are manipulative and find ways (sometimes subtle but often quite overt) to achieve their objectives. They like to use intimidation or pressure to get others to co-operate. E.g. They use their position of power to influence others.

Ethical leaders

The executives and senior managers that I see as ethical leaders have several traits in common. Each of them guards their reputation with their life. They are principled individuals who have a very clear idea of what is right and what is wrong. As a result they minimise dealings with colleagues who could have an adverse impact on their reputation.

Ethical leaders find a way of disengaging from situations that make them uncomfortable from an ethical point of view. However, they do it in a way that keeps egos and relationships intact.

These leaders make decisions that are in the best interests of all parties. This means their focus is on the broader community as opposed to themselves.  Kagiso reflects a great deal on how he approaches work and people at work. So he has learnt very effectively how to manage his own emotions and to stay away from negative situations. He likes to find the best way forward for the business as a whole.  In addition Kagiso refrains from decisions and actions that may disadvantage others.

Building strong and lasting relationships is another common factors among ethical leaders. They take the time it requires to get to know people and build trust. Ethical leaders build authentic relationships at all levels. They show a genuine interest in others. As a result individuals go out of their way to be of assistance.

The ethical leaders with whom I have interacted are brutally honest with themselves. They are self-aware and make time to reflect on how they deal with situations.

They are willing to be an “outsider” (not one of the guys) to live their values. The higher they progress in companies the more they realise the importance of keeping others’ egos intact. So they become more subtle and skilled at not participating in situations that make them uncomfortable.

If you would like to explore ethics in business you may be keen to pursue coaching.

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Posted in Ethical leadership.