No shortcut to Higher Ground
September 19, 2011
Nashville Business Journal
Theft, bribery, financial manipulation, infidelity: Media stories portray a huge lapse in professional ethics, common sense and responsibility. But whether the times are really changing or we’re just over-exposed to media, the publicity of moral mishaps is undoubtedly deterring the business community from committing misdeeds. The ethical bar has been raised.
So it’s back to Ethics 101: True leaders don’t take shortcuts to moral high ground. They act personally and professionally with the highest degree of integrity because they know that is the only path to long-term success. They do not bend in the face of temptation. They set direction—the moral compass—and do everything possible to ensure the success of the entire organization.
Communicate clearly. Repeat.
A big part of maintaining high ethical standards starts with thorough and regular communication. Avoid costly and stressful misunderstandings by being clear about expectations. Frequently talk about the importance of taking honest and ethical actions. Experts say that we are lucky to recall 10 percent of what we hear, so it’s a leader’s responsibility to be repetitive about topics that are critically important to the reputation of an organization and its people.
Set the example.
What if those around you aren’t following the moral compass? That’s the ideal opportunity to step up and be a true leader by both clearly setting the right example and then challenging those who chose not to walk the high road. Ethical leadership is a wining practice, and you can lead the way. Those of us in leadership roles have a solemn obligation to set the moral tone for our people. In the end, leaders who take the high road earn the most respect and, in the long term, are the most successful.
Take action when necessary.
Inevitably at some point as a leader you may work for a higher-up who does not always exemplify the right behavior. While this can seem like a tough situation, I can tell you with confidence, as a former CEO, that senior leaders in almost every organization want to follow the right path. Sometimes they just need a little nudge in the right direction. Your challenge is to approach your boss in a constructive way or, depending on the circumstances, take the matter through the right corporate channels for resolution. Demonstrating your own sense of moral direction can guide others down the same path.
Retired Chairman of Tractor Supply Company
Founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute