The Interesting Thing About Ethics, Values, and Moral Leadership
One of the most interesting topics today in the learning profession is professional, business ethics and moral leadership. This, in the context of the capitalist corporate model of maximizing profits and questionable Anglo-US corporate governance model that is still followed by many former British colonies today. This topic is about ethics, values, morals, leadership, social responsibility, shareholder and stakeholder values, benefits to society, doing good for society, philanthropy, and doing well as a business and leader. Not all covered in this article today. One may have heard of the triple bottom line (TBL) of economic, social, and environmental measures as an interesting and a good measure for all these activities.
Ethical Behavior as the Difference Between Success and Failure
In a business, ethics, values, and morals could mean the difference between failure and success of the business as witnessed by so many corporate scandals to date. For example, the Volkswagen emission scandal, JC Penney’s fraudulent marketing scandal and the Liberty Tax sex scandal, alleged executive and board misappropriation that is still ongoing. Another example of why ethics is important is that, "... inappropriate employee behavior... theft of business supplies and equipment... is estimated that 30 to 50 percent of all business failures are linked to losses from employee theft, a problem that is ten times more costly than street crime in terms of loss to society... estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars in the United States alone... 75 percent of employees engage in some form of theft in their workplace..." (Tyler, 2006, Loc. 2270).
The Organizational Benefits of Ethics, Values, and Moral Leadership Defined
So, what exactly is ethics, values, and morals anyway? Defining it really depends on your culture, traditions, experiences and beliefs—but if it’s your culture one is talking about, your experiences, beliefs, perceptions, and actions suggests that your ethics, values, principles, and moral leadership is the correct one. The next question logically then is, if your view is the right view— how is the business performance doing? Reputation? Social responsibility and environmental record? Innovation? Employee engagement? Not recording or keeping track of those things? And so on, according to Hartman, DesJardins, & MacDonald (2018), “… a firm’s ethical reputation can provide a competitive edge in the marketplace with customers, suppliers, and employees… trust, loyalty, commitment, creativity, and initiative are just some of the organizational benefits that are likely to flourish within ethically stable and credible organizations” (p. 8).
For the most part, ethics, “… at its most basic level… is concerned with how we act and how we live our lives” (Hartman, Desjardins, & MacDonald, 2018). Ethic is a noun; “ethical” is an adjective that considers the conduct (actions) of the values (morals) that we may have and are acting upon. We often refer to this as ethical behavior or ethical values, in this context, ethical is used in a verb phrase or verb (meaning action). Morals implies more than one value, it’s a set of values or principles that makes up a person’s or business’ own system of integrity or organizational culture; e.g., wisdom, virtue, fortitude, temperance, and justice; patience, care, love, guidance, dedication, and justice; also, “… faith, courage, and wisdom…” as professed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) (Leanne, 2012).
Conclusion: From the Traditional Capitalist to the Enlightened Capitalist
Those capitalists who embrace both shareholder value (as opposed to maximizing shareholder profits) and are highly socially responsible some refer to as “The Enlightened Capitalist” (O’Toole, 2019). Since Medieval times there have been many enlightened capitalists, most forgotten as are their lessons. There are many different views on this subject, but one view certainly suggests, that a corporation as part of the biosphere— it goes to reason that there must be a cost incurred for using the biosphere’s resources; at a minimum corporations must do enough good to make up for what they consume and also consider to entire cycle and process from “cradle-to-cradle sustainability”; i.e., leave the biosphere (planet) better than before they used it. Therefore, "A business model that ignores the biophysical and ecological context of its activities is a business model doomed to failure" (Hartman et al., 2018, p. 189). See the benefits we get from nature in figure 1 while you can.
Figure 1 Benefits from Nature (WWF, 2019)
Any thoughts on ethics, values, moral leadership, enlightened capitalist, TBL, or responsibility of corporations to do good in order to do well (e.g., performance), please don’t hesitate to comment? For example, how about the “requirement” for ethics, values, and moral leadership in professional and business life? Should it be required or is it expected? More on this in another post…
Hartman, L. P., DesJardins, J., & MacDonald, C. (2018). Business ethics: Decision making for personal integrity and social responsibility (4th ed.). Retrieved from RedShelf Books
Leanne, S. (2012). Say it like Obama and win!: The power of speaking with purpose and vision, revised and expanded third edition (3rd ed.). Retrieved from O'Reilly Safari Books Online
O'Toole, J. (2019). The enlightened capitalists: Cautionary tales of business pioneers who tried to do well by doing good. Retrieved from Amazon Kindle
Tyler, T. R. (2006). Self-sacrifice and self-interest: Do ethical values shape behavior in organizational settings? In D. L. Rhode (Ed.), Moral leadership: The theory and practice of power, judgement, and policy (Ch. 9). Retrieved from Amazon Kindle
WWF. (2018). Living planet report 2018. Retrieved from https://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/all_publications/living_planet_report_2018/