Traits of Ethical Leaders

In many years as an ethics consultant, I have seen my share of ethically challenged leaders in both business and government. Most do not sustain success, but some do. But I have also worked for highly ethical individuals who have risen to the top of their organizations. There is much to learn from those who match ethics and success. Here are some lessons based on observations of ethical business leaders.

Say less but say the truth.

When you are a CEO, every word you say is measured by your employees, doubted by journalists, parsed by analysts and weighed against laws and regulations by a hungry plaintiff’s bar. You are not entitled to many opinions as any expressed opinion will be mined for potential insight into what your company will do next. This is why CEOs are often quiet on issues of the day. When they speak, they are speaking for their companies and not themselves no matter how hard they try to separate the two. Ethical leaders avoid half-truths and lies by saying less. They limit what they say to what they know – or think they know – to be true.

Four additional lessons from ethical leaders will be shared in future posts.

Trademark Your Ethics

This post is part of a series of posts on ethics and success.

If you want ethics to fuel your success, make ethics part of how you work. For example, if you are in a sales position, get to be known for providing customers with honest information. Make honesty a part of your sales edge. If you work on a technical team, be generous in giving others credit for what they accomplish. Just as we have confidence in companies with a reputation for honesty, people will have confidence in you if ethics is your work trademark. Will others try to take advantage of your ethics? Certainly. But your ethical trademark will help you push them back over time as others see their conduct for what it is.

2nd Ethical Mistake

In my pursuit of the biggest mistakes leaders make, the second biggest mistake is fixing a problem going forward without owning the problem’s history. This would be like GM fixing its ignition problem going forward without owning the problem in cars currently on the road. This never works but it is very tempting to leaders who don’t want a past problem dragging their organization down. But you have to own the organization’s history to be able to move on.

Book at O’Reilly

My book Make an Ethical Difference is on sale at half price today at http://oreilly.com/. One day only.

Getting Fired

Ever more frequently, I learn about compliance officers losing their jobs, mainly because they were doing them. A lot of organizations have a compliance officer because they know they are supposed to. But they would really be happier if the compliance officer cashed their paycheck and stayed out of the way. This is confirmed by the fact that the compliance officers being fired are not the dregs but often among the best in the business. Compliance officers are not always adept at organizational politics and tend not to be assertive on their own behalf. But this is a job where you have to get a contract for at least three years. You owe this to yourself and those who depend on you. I know that asking for a contract may seem extreme, but you don’t answer the phone where I work.

On Line Ethics Course

One of the most popular topics in my writing and speaking is how to influence ethically. I am pleased that SoundviewPro, which is the same company that does Executive Book Summaries, has made available a full video-based course titled “Influence with Ethics.” The course consists of four separate classes each built around practical tools for being effective at influencing with ethics. You can preview the course at https://www.soundviewpro.com/online-courses/_/influence-with-ethics/.  Be sure to let me know if the course helps you and how it can be improved.

Compliance Interview

In a recent interview, Mark Pastin discusses a wide range of issues on corporate compliance. Please feel free to offer comments on any of the topics discussed in the video.