Focus on the leadership potential of everyone

The value and importance of ethical leadership cannot be overestimated.

As role models, they effectively set the ethical standards of the organisation by the values they demonstrate, by what they say and do, and by what they don’t say and do. But are there enough ethical leaders?

Focusing on initiatives to develop more ethical leaders is a sound approach – provided it is not undermined by restrictive assumptions. A primary assumption arises out of leadership being associated with a small group of individuals at the top of an organisation.

This easily translates into the view that leadership exists only in certain people, which denies the recognition that leadership exists at all levels in an organisation.

It also limits leadership to the few, as opposed to shared leadership which benefits from leadership from many more people.

An allied view is that only a few select people have leadership potential. This results in a limited development focus: Only a few potential leaders are developed, rather than developing the leadership potential in everyone.

A further assumption was well articulated by Peter Senge, who acknowledged that “when things are going poorly and when things become desperate we can easily find ourselves waiting for a great leader to rescue us”.

This outward focus of looking for someone else to be the ethical leader misses the bigger question, namely, what are we able to contribute? Taking personal responsibility for exercising ethical leadership in your sphere of influence can make a difference.

To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi’s view that “we need to be the change we wish to see in the world”: we need to be the ethical leader we wish to follow.

This view coupled to the acceptance that leadership exists in everyone and that shared leadership is optimal can make a noteworthy difference.

Traditional approaches to developing leadership include leadership courses, leadership development programmes, executive coaching and succession-planning initiatives.

All of these can add value provided they are underpinned by the following behaviours which are core to fostering more ethical leadership:

Live your values: Living the crucial moral values in the workplace – such as honesty, integrity, fairness, respect, care, responsibility and accountability – entails a personal commitment to the values which is evident in all your decisions and actions.

Live the organisation’s culture: Leaders who live the organisation’s culture offer visible behavioural support for the way things should be done in the workplace.

Comply with and support applicable legislation, rules and regulations: The law should be viewed as a minimum standard, and good leaders should aspire to do more than the bare minimum.

Follow the golden rule to do to others as you would like them to do to you: The philosophy of reversibility is a well-recognised approach ensuring that the views of others are taken into account.

Lead to empower others, not just for self: Good, ethical leadership aims to empower others and to better enable them to be leaders. Leaders should enhance and uplift the ethics around them, in their teams, departments, businesses, families or communities.

By Cynthia Schoeman
Published in the Star Workplace and the Pretoria News Workplace