Monday, January 26, 2009

How Leaders Do the Right Thing

EthicsArrowj0432558 Uncle Burt reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He fumbled for another five dollar bill and then slapped it on the bar. He directed his soft, raspy voice toward the bartender, "When you get a chance, get my nephew another beer."

As he settled back onto his seat, I blurted, "Burt, I got my draft card yesterday." The year was was 1973 and the Vietnam War was winding down, but the draft was alive and well.

"Well, what are you going to do?" The war-decorated Marine’s blue eyes stared at me.

"I don't want to go to Vietnam and die. Don't we have relatives in Sweden or Denmark?" So there, I said it to a man who was my second father, a former Marine and whose eldest son - cousin Dean - was also a Marine.

"You're not going to go to Sweden or Denmark, Dave."

"I'm not? Why not?" I really hadn't decided anything.

"Because," he put his muscular left arm around me, squeezed hard and smiled, "you're always going to do the right thing."

I wish I could tell you that Uncle Burt was right - that I've always done the right thing. But I haven't. I've tried to do the right thing, but I've made many mistakes. (I never had to make a decision about the Vietnam War, the war ended before my number was called.) Here are a three practical guidelines that philosophers from Socrates to Uncle Burt have used to help do the right thing.

1. The VIRTUE Approach
This traditional approach to ethics teaches us that a leader's decision should be consistent with specific virtues. These virtues enable us to act according to the highest potential of our character. A virtuous leader asks, "What kind of person will I become if I do this?" or "Is this action consistent with my acting at my best?" The research suggests that you and your team profit as you practice the virtues of honesty, integrity, equity, and humility.

2. The UTILITARIAN Approach
Employing the utilitarian approach to making ethical decisions means that your aim is to produce the greatest good and least harm for all those who are affected by your decision. This often includes weighing the impact of your decisions on the many stakeholders who often have conflicting interests, such as your customers, employees, shareholders, the community, and the environment. Utilitarian leaders consider the consequences of decisions by asking, "How can this decision produce the greatest good and least harm."

3. The COMMON GOOD Approach
Similar to the utilitarian approach, the common good emphasizes the impact of decisions on the larger community. Philosopher Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative addresses this by stating: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law of nature." In other words, the common good approach invites leaders to ask, “If everybody here was compelled to do what I'm about to do, how would it affect the environment?”

These are three fundamental approaches to help you become a more ethical leader. Perhaps if more leaders applied them, the world economy would be in better shape. Which ones will be most useful to you?

Keep eXpanding... ethically,

Dave

3 comments:

Pol vanRhee said...

I always like the way Brian Tracy puts it: What kind of world would it be if everyone was like you.

and

It's what you do when no one is looking that really matters

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Hi Pol,

Thanks so much. Brian's words ring very true... and close to Kant's categorical imperative - if everyone had to do what your about to, how would the environment be.

Thanks for writing,
Dave

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