How to Create An Ethical Work Environment

Linda Fisher Thornton Foresight, Guest Post, Leadership Leave a Comment

How do you get people to act ethically in the workplace? It starts at the top.

It begins with ethical leadership. People want a leader who treats everyone with respect, is fully inclusive, respects differences, and is willing to build trust inside the organization and across political, economic, social and cultural boundaries.

Ethical leaders have a tremendous impact on how people in their organizations behave and what they achieve. Those who succeed in leading ethically not only improve their business and culture, they also help make a difference in the world. Effective leaders focus on what’s right and exemplify to their people that they are there to help, and not to exploit the vulnerabilities of others. Their organizations typically respond to their example and their desire to serve others and make a positive difference.

The new thought provoking book, 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership provides a framework for learning the best ways corporate leaders can address the challenges ethical issues pose in everyday life. It includes practical advice on the most important actions leaders can take to integrate ethical conduct into their organizations. Some crucial actions recommended for leaders include:

1. Face the complexity involved in making ethical choices. Don’t oversimplify decisions.

Openly discuss the ethical grey areas and acknowledge the complexity of work life. Involve others in more of the ethical decisions. Be a leader who talks about the difficult ethical choices, and help others learn to take responsibility for making ethical decisions carefully.

2. Talk about the right thing to do in the context of your daily challenges. Don’t separate ethics from day-to-day business.

Make it clear to your people that ethics is “the way we operate” and not a training program or reference manual. Every activity, whether it is a training program, a client meeting, or an important top management strategy session, should include conversations about ethics.

3. Demonstrate respect for everyone all the time. Don’t allow negative interpersonal behaviors to erode trust.

Make respect a load-bearing beam in your culture. Be an ethical leader who expects it and practices it. Cultivate a respectful environment where people can speak up about ethics and share the responsibility for living it. Build trust, demand open communication and share the ownership of organizational values.

4. Take responsibility broadly, and reach for the highest level of ethical leadership. Don’t think about ethics as just following laws and regulations.

Take action and show consumers and other stakeholders that you are actively engaged with ethical issues that matter. Recognize how ethics influences their reasons to buy from you, and demonstrate your commitment to go beyond mere compliance with laws and regulations. Prove that you are committed to ethical issues, including human rights, social justice and sustainability.

5. Hold everyone accountable, and expect leaders to model the standards. Don’t exempt anyone from meeting ethical expectations.

Allow no excuses. Make sure that no one is exempted from meeting the ethical standards you adopt. Maintain the status of ethics as a total, absolute, “must do” in the organization. Hold everyone, particularly senior leaders and high profile managers, accountable. No exceptions!

6. When you talk about ethics, don’t just talk about the negative. Celebrate positive ethical moments.

Be a proactive ethical leader, championing high ethical conduct, and emphasizing prevention. Talk about what positive ethics looks like in practice as often as you talk about what to avoid. Take time to celebrate positive ethical choices.

7. Don’t ever stop. Talk about ethics as an ongoing learning journey, not a once-a-year training program.

Integrate ethics into every action of your organization – everything people do, touch, or influence. Talk about ethics as an ongoing learning journey, not something you have or don’t have. Recognize that the world changes constantly, and that ethical conduct requires that everyone remain vigilant. Ethics has an important and permanent role in our work lives for as long as we live.

Linda Fisher Thornton

Linda Fisher Thornton

inda Fisher Thornton is CEO of Leading in Context LLC and one of the 2013 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. She also teaches as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Her new book is 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.,, @leadingcontxt
Linda Fisher Thornton

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