Is it possible for an ethical and values based leader to effect change in an organisation previously entrenched in hierarchical communism?
A new leader joins an organisation that has a history, and culture of disrespect, scepticism and disregard for social and environmental responsibility. Although a profitable organisation the internal culture is failing with high levels of self interest, disrespect for peers, and management at all levels. Divisions within the organisation are operating independently and without cooperation or coordination, but yet somehow it still works, largely based on the goodwill and intent of the few who are miraculously holding the organisation together. Divisional managers are pedestal squatters picturing themselves looking down on the others each viewing their contribution to the organisation as far more significant than the others.
Should this new ethical leader run for the hills or take up the challenge at the risk of career suicide. Of course the enormity of this challenge is visible at the onset but the ethical leader’s desire, responsibility, and sense of self duty to save this organisation from the quagmire of culture cancer is even greater. Where does this great leader start, and what level of this organisation do they inject their lethal dose of corporate chemotherapy that will magically spread the word of ethicality, social and environmental responsibility? Is it possible for this cure to convert the non believers to the daffodil ridden playground of triple bottom line reporting and all encompassing corporate responsibility?
Of course there is no simple cure, nor bolt of lightning from the heavens that can bypass many months or perhaps years of spreading the word of ethicality and espousing utilitarian values. The road to an organisation that recognises and values respect, trust, and an environment of support can only be travelled once the unwritten rule book of the existing culture can be fully explored. It requires the internal world of the organisation to be exposed and uncover a full understanding of the ways in which things have been done around here, and perhaps even the key players and their own personal drivers of their perceptions prior to the ethical leader attempting to devolve the new way through the various nodes of the organisation.
Respect and trust are the corner stones of the ethical grandstand in which every employee holds a ticket to the corporate box. Inclusiveness and respectfulness, along with availability and opportunity need to be provided by leaders to encourage communication at all levels. Without the respect of the leader the staff, at any level, may doubt their contribution to the organisation and ultimately the corporate values that the ethical leader would like to encourage. They need to trust that the leader considers both their opinions and best interests, along with those of the organisation, and respects that through the knowledge, sense of purpose, trust and authority that the leadership holds, that any decision is one worthy of support irrespective of personal opinion.
Inspiration and facilitation are key low intervention techniques that any ethical leader should evoke as a foundation to developing a culture of ethicality and organisational consciousness. The concept of self review at all levels should be encouraged to ensure that utilitarian principles are actualized and remain a progressive and sacrosanct element of any organisation. Leaders need to inspire trust but also be a major beneficiary of trust to be effective in the ethical workplace. A high degree of skill in facilitation is also critically important in encouraging an environment for others to share their knowledge in a forum of support and consideration.
Persuasion skills are the second line of defence for the ethical leader. If inspiration and facilitation fail then a stronger position of persuasive influence can be employed to sway potential doubters. Persuasion can take many forms but ultimately persuasion allows the ethical leader to take the moral high ground while rolling boulders of self doubt toward the unconvinced below. This requires them to assess their personal position on the subject and either accept the dilemma of standing strongly against a utilitarian set of values for the greater good of all, or simply jump back into line with the rest of the culture conformists that are struggling to find reason behind their disdain for the foreign and in the past distant ideals.
Manipulation and coercion are the final tools available to the ethical leader. However they need to be used as short term antidotes to avoid cynicism and disrespect. Subtle manipulation is a pill easily swallowed in the first few instances but rapidly attracts awareness and caution which ultimately dilutes trust and respect. Manipulation is a tool best kept aside for those that are fence sitters that are slightly unbalanced toward the greater vision of ethicality. Even though they retain resistance to even the most dynamic inspiration and initially see no intrinsic value in being part of an inclusive organisation, this group simply require a little push to create clarity around the benefits of a utilitarian culture. Should there be a question around the acceptance of manipulation the last bastion of defence is coercion.
Coercion should be reserved for the staunchest of opponents with the greatest ability and amount of expertise to contribute. The reality of the situation is that even with their palms graced with gold and bullion they will likely contribute less than that of the truly inspired, hence having a significant amount of contributable value at the start is important as the ethical leader will most likely struggle to obtain a significant percentage of this person’s knowledge until they encounter a significant ‘event’ that stimulates their conscience into belief of the principles of the greater good for all.
All ethical leaders would prefer to be operating at the beginning of the intervention scale relying solely on inspiration and facilitation to spread their message of corporate responsibility and the benefits of an organisational culture of ethicality, inclusiveness, respect and trust. Research indicates that people need to be led when it comes to ethics, they look to significant others for guidance around decision making relating to ethical issues. An effective ethical leader can identify and manage conflicting values whilst providing conscious management of ethical issues between the sub cultures of an organisation. They will create an environment that allows employees to become integrated into the organisational culture. The more integrated an employee becomes in a culture, the more influence that culture has on what that employees sees as right and wrong, and the decisions made thereafter.
The tendency to join with others in groups is perhaps the single most important characteristic of humans, and the processes that unfold within these groups leave an indelible imprint on their members and on society. People genuinely want to do the right thing, although at times they struggle to define right from wrong without being immersed in a culture or support network that guides them through the maze of ethical dilemmas facing people in today’s tough financial environments.
There is little doubt that even the most ethical of leaders will have some level of employee loss throughout the culture change process and this would be seen as inevitable in most cases. Some individuals simply will not be swayed by anything other than self interest and selfishness despite being surrounded by ethically charged peers and significant others. These people are the casualties of ethicality whom are beyond conversion. The ethical leader needs not be swayed nor delayed in recognising and acting toward isolation of these individuals to prevent decay permeating the culture and slowing positive change. It will not be an easy road to the creation of an organisation that no longer imposes authoritarian control, and turn it into one that promotes moral imagination. Nor will it be simple to create an organisation that has the capacity to nurture multiple cultures and sub cultures, yet promote respect and trust as the highest ranking values of the organisation. It is possible, not easy, not simple, not fast, but it is possible, and the wider ranging benefits to your environment, community, organisation, and staff will make it worth the considerable effort and learning it will take you as an ethical leader of the future to bring about change.