Ethics and Culture
Pressure from management or the board to meet unrealistic business objectives and deadlines is the leading factor to cause unethical corporate behavior, according to a recent survey on business ethics. The desire to further one’s career and to protect one’s livelihood are ranked second and third respectively as leading factors. That’s according to a global survey commissioned by American Management Association (AMA) and conducted by the Human Resource Institute (HRI).
According to the AMA/HRI survey, working in an environment with cynicism or diminished morale, improper training about or ignorance that acts are unethical, and the lack of consequences when caught are the next leading factors likely to cause unethical behavior. These factors are followed by the need to follow the boss’s orders, peer pressure/desire to be a team player, desire to steal from or harm the organization and, paradoxically, wanting to help the organization survive.
Although moral and ethical are often used interchangeably to mean “conforming to a standard of what is right and good,” the adjectives do have individual nuances. Moral implies conformity to established sanctioned codes or to accepted notions of right and wrong; that’s the word we use when we talk about the “basic moral values of a community.” Ethical, on the other hand, may suggest the involvement of more difficult or subtle questions of rightness, fairness, or equity. In discussing ethics, rarely is there only one answer, rarely is it comfortable, and rarely is it enough.
Socrates said: “Every man should expend his chief thought and attention on his first principles. Are they, or are they not rightly laid down? And when he has duly sifted through them, all the rest will follow.”
I offer the above principles as landmarks – generic indicators to be used as compelling guides for an active conscience. They are NOT absolute rules or values. The principles have been organized into three categories for ease of use: personal, professional and global ethics.
These principles are compatible with the argument that we should simply follow our intuition and rely on the ‘inner voice’. However, that voice is not always audible…
In a sense, the principles are outcomes of the mother of all principles – unconditional love and compassion – which appears in virtually all faiths, and is expressed here as ‘concern for the well-being of others’.
At first glance, they will appear obvious and perhaps simplistic. Even so, many people do not have them in mind when they make decisions… this is because people are at different stages in their stages of ethical development.
The Kohlberg’s stages of moral development
The Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are planes of moral adequacy conceived by Lawrence Kohlberg to explain the development of moral reasoning, the reasoning behind the ethical dilemmas. This theory was created while he was studying psychology at the University of Chicago. Kolberg was inspired by the work of Jean Piaget and by a fascination with children’s reactions to moral dilemmas.He wrote his doctoral dissertation at the university in 1958,outlining what are now known as his stages of moral development.
At stage 1 children think of what is right as that which authority says is right. Doing the right thing is obeying authority and avoiding punishment.
At stage 2, children are no longer so impressed by any single authority; they see that there are different sides to any issue. Since everything is relative, one is free to pursue one’s own interests, although it is often useful to make deals and exchange favors with others.
At stages 3 and 4, young people think of themselves as members of the conventional society with its values, norms, and expectations. At stage 3, they emphasize being a good person, which means having helpful motives toward people close to them. At stage 4, the concern shifts toward obeying laws to maintain society as a whole.
At stages 5 and 6 people are less concerned with maintaining society for its own sake, and more concerned with the principles and values that make for a good society. At stage 5 they emphasize basic rights and the democratic processes that give everyone a say, and at stage 6 they define the principles by which agreement will be most just.
At what stage is your organization today? How do you make individual and collective decisions when presented a dilemma?
The best leaders exhibit both their values and their ethics in their leadership style and actions.
The aforementioned survey also found that the single most important ethical leadership behavior is keeping promises, followed by encouraging open communication, keeping employees informed and supporting employees who uphold ethical standards. If an organization has leaders who simply don’t “walk the talk” when it comes to ethics, there’s little hope of maintaining a strong ethical culture.