I will always remember one of my first on-the-job lessons in leadership: “be aware of the shadow you cast”. She was one of the best leaders I have come across in my career. Always composed and with amazing ability of reading the room and understanding what to say, how to say and when to say it. With the utmost ethics standards both in her soul and her actions. I realized soon after how critical role my role as a leader was in role modeling, in establishing throughout the teams I have led, behaviors, attitudes, stands and ethical standards that were ultimately creating a micro-culture of the total organizational culture.
Moral Crisis in Today´s World
As you scan the world stage today, there´s a clear moral crisis in leadership. The crisis is not only in the public but also in the private sector. Leaders across the globe are willing to cross ethical lines and betray moral standards for political or power reasons. Some others promote flagrant deceitful behaviors and show no remorse whatsoever as they are caught. Their words, actions and attitudes toward critical topics are more than ever polarizing, divisive, untruthful and even unprincipled. Our connected world only amplifies the shadows these leaders cast, leaving thousands misinformed, deceit and divided.
Every day, there´s news about a new case of moral betraying of some sort. Public officials and corporate leaders are deeply involved, and in most instances they used their positions of power to promote, benefit and create cultures of a “relaxed moral”.
Looking at the Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International, it´s shocking to see not only the number of countries with high levels of corrupt practices but how much of the world´s population is highly affected by such practices and how little improvement has happened over the years.
The silver lining is that while most people in various regions think corruption increased in their country, a majority also feel that they, as citizens, can make a difference in the fight against corruption.
This is true too across corporations, it is the tone-at-the-top, followed by consistent behaviors that can fight decisively against all sort of unethical practices.
Society needs more leaders able to discern the right thing to do beyond the traditional ethic standards
The Opportunity as Leaders
This moral crisis opens-up a window to differentiate yourself as a leader. When you truly embrace a moral standard that genuinely looks after all aspects of doing good, you are setting yourself apart from a crowded field of false leaders and their deceit disciples.
Introducing codes and manuals of conduct to teach employees accepted behaviors in multiple circumstances is not enough. Appointing Compliance and Ethics officers is not enough either. Corporations, and societies in general, need truly committed leaders constantly looking after developing and nurturing better corporate citizens and people.
As a leader, and regardless of where in the hierarchy you sit, or how many people you lead, you have a duty of developing people. This duty outspreads to all the people your words and action touch. So, do not be afraid to take a stand on issues beyond your job description. Speak up about unethical and untruthful things you see happening around you. Exercise prudence while conveying your thoughts, knowing the impact you have on everyone that surrounds you physically or virtually.
We need new leaders across the entire spectrum of public and private sectors. Leaders able to discern and act decisively in every situation and do what´s right thru the eyes of the entire society, not their individual benefit. We need leaders that are not just appointed to please shareholders or powerful constituents that hold their funding. We need leaders with a sworn duty of moral standards against all odds and political pressures. Choose to be such leader and cast large shadows of unbendable ethical behavior.
Leadership in Action
So how can you move decisively toward fixing this moral crisis:
Speak openly to your teams about the importance of having ethical boundaries across the business spectrum. Talk about examples of what´s allowed and what´s not within such framework. Made people aware of the consequences of betraying such moral standard, to the organization, to the team they belong to, to the people involved and to the overall society. Create a safe environment for people to speak up and bring concerns of unethical behaviors. But most importantly, lead by example. Let people know what you stand for, let them know -with actions more than words- what is allowed and what is not. Do not be afraid of breaking the status quo, the comfort zone and the way things have been done in an attempt to set up higher business ethical standards.
It´s true that culture and context always play a role, but when it comes to ethics in business and in society, there are more universal values that you can anchor your frameworks on.
Be mindful of the fact that great inventors are remembered for the things they created but great leaders are remembered by how they touched and changes lives by their genuine actions.
Luis Cuellar is currently the Managing Director at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.