Leadership and ethics to me are two of the most related words in the common business jargon. All leaders have the capability to manage their resources, people and situations but not all managers can lead in all situations. All good leaders must have an ethical foundation that would enable him to effectively lead. This is the fundamental difference between a “leader” and a “manager”, despite the two terms being used interchangeably in present-day literature. According to Bennis and Nanus (1997) a leader must have experienced and succeeded in:
- Overcoming resistance to change - normally through the exertion of power and control or other means deviating from this conventional approach;
- Brokering the requirements of both internal and external stakeholders of the organization – normally through the observation of unique sensitivities of each relevant stakeholder group and through the implementation of sensible actions leading to such; and
- Setting the ethnical norm required to guide the behaviour of the people within the organization – normally through demonstrating through their own behaviour the ethical requirements of the organization.
One of the most important skills a leader must possess is the ability to consider and respond to the individual needs, feelings, capabilities, beliefs and practices of people in an organization. This requirement is compounded by the fact that these feelings and needs changes in accordance with the situations they face. It is therefore of utmost importance that well-developed interpersonal skills are instilled in leaders. Interpersonal skills are required for ensuring the highest possible level of work-place productivity. Leaders must understand how to motivate and communicate through the organization. Leaders must yield the ability to convince people within the organization to accomplish tasks that contribute to the achievement of the organization’s goals and objectives. Having polished interpersonal skills provide leaders with the tools that are necessary to empower and improve the level of competence and cooperation within the organization.
The issues surrounding the buzz words “ethical business” and “moral leadership” is considered one of the most pressing concerns of this century. Both concepts are important but are quite difficult to finitely characterize. The first step is therefore differentiating the concepts of ethics, morals and values. There is no single definition of the words ethics and morals. Values are added as part of leadership requirements because of its necessity in understanding business ethics and moral leadership. Defining ethics, morals and values require the identification of a reference field, from which the parameters of these terms will then be defined. From the business sense, Narvan (2010) defines ethics, morals and values as:
- Values – fundamental beliefs. When you wake up in the morning knowing that something is “right” or “wrong”, you are using the instilled values in you to categorize, they provide guidance and act as a person’s standards.
- Morals – these are values that are framed within a system of beliefs. Morals are values that are received by the individual from a figure of authority outside of that individual. Morals could be religious or political in nature, since both identify a higher power as the source of the authority that defines morality. In business organizations, choices and decisions are made exclusive of moral terms basically because doing so may provoke unwarranted reactions. Morals are often identified as biases therefore applying morals as a standard in business proceedings indicate inequity, even if none is intended. Ethics is acting in such a manner that is consistent with our moral values. When someone is acting to what he thinks is right, then he is acting ethically.
The challenge with the definition of what is ethical and what is not, is not the responsibility of a single person or entity, but is a challenge of the collective. Ethical standards are often defined by society, if not; great atrocity such as those committed during the Second World War would be “ethical” by the standards of one man. Ethics is therefore defined as the collective moral opinion of society.
I believe that it is much harder to understand and define the word “ethics” and in a business environment, the boundaries between what is considered ethical and what is considered un-ethical is a very thin, precarious line.
Bennis, W. and B. Nanus. 1997. Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. “Leadership is doing the right thing. Management is doing this right.” Published by New York Harper Business.
Ciulla, J. 2003. Ethics and Leadership Effectiveness. Retrieved from http://www.ila-net.org/Members/Directory/DownloadS/Antonakis-Ciulla-13.pdf Retrieved on September 18, 2012
Karve, V. 2006. How to Assess Ethical Fitness. Retrieved from http://businesspeak.com/business-ethics-how-to-assess-ethical-fitness/ Retrieved on September 18, 2012
Narvan, F. 2010. Defining Values, Morals and Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.navran.com/article-values-morals-ethics.html Retrieved on September 19, 2012