Without a doubt, the most common question I get these days is, “How can you talk about ethics with what’s going on today?” My immediate response is always a series of questions to make sure I know what the individual means by the “going on today” part of their statement. Almost always, the question is rooted in the disappointment the asker has in political or corporate leaders. The question is timely because it’s asking me how I get people to buy into ethics and ethical leadership when society is consistently hearing how others are achieving success in ways that may be considered unethical.
Rather than avoid the question, which I considered doing the first time I got it, I opted to embrace it, and use it as an opportunity to talk about a concept we at the NASBA Center for Public Trust (CPT) call sustainable leadership. Here is the reality…in almost every unethical example, we hear about leaders or people in question being caught or exposed. This means the behavior has been brought into question. Unethical leaders are often forced to worry, wonder and even commit crimes to cover their misgivings. Despite their concerted efforts, the truth almost always comes to light.
However, sustainable leaders operate without the worry and stress of being exposed. Sustainable leaders are the types of leaders that Jim Collins and John Maxwell describe in their books as Level 5 Leaders. In addition to other attractive qualities, these leaders decide to make decisions that consider all stakeholders, not just their personal interests or the bottom line of their businesses. Sustainable leaders are not perfect, but they strive to achieve success within the rules, and they do not put themselves or the people they lead
My answer to “How can you talk about ethics today?” is: I try to develop, encourage, empower and promote sustainable leaders. I want to do the same for you. Don’t allow yourself to be a person living with the stress of being exposed. Be a sustainable leader. It may take longer to reach your goal, but you will likely stay on top longer and feel good about your journey.
As always…Lead with Integrity.
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