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7 Traits of Ethical Leadership

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

How Ethical Leadership Can Weather Any Storm 

By Dax Kimbrough

We are currently in the eye of a perfect storm dealing with social, economic and health crises on all fronts. In normal times, crisis can bring out the best worst in people, but the confluence of pandemic and civil rights movement paired with an economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression can tax even the strongest leaders among us. Stress can be a crippling emotion, cloud judgment, inhibit good decision making and most critically, reduce the effectiveness of your leadership.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and from all levels of an organization. C-Suite positions are not the only levels where effective leadership is needed, mid-level managers need to be effective leaders. And if you’re not currently in a position of leadership, you might soon be. Ethical leadership is ultimately the most effective leader and will likely be the most needed in the years to come.   

Ethical leadership is simply a set of principles that can help build harmony, trust, mutual respect, and alignment within your organization.

Every communication, whether it be verbal, non-verbal, or written, will set a powerful example for your team.

1. Be transparent 

In order for your team to act in accordance with company goals and strategy, your team must have the best and most complete information available. Knowledge is power and direct accurate information provides the knowledge to give your team the power to be their most effective. With that said, I acknowledge that not every company matter can be discussed in a totally transparent way and that there are certain financial, HR, and other matters that cannot be shared with everyone.  

2. Be direct but also be compassionate 

Everyone on your team has a past, a story, and a set of factors that influence their behavior.   You most likely only know about 20% of what is happening with the people you work with. So it is important to communicate in a direct, but compassionate way.  We are not saying you have to be a softy, but if you adhere to the other characteristics of an ethical leader and install mutual respect and trust, direct and compassionate communication will be the most effective.

3. You do you

Use all the resources of your own humanity—empathy, resilience, vulnerability, strength—to have open and honest conversations with your colleagues and reports. Make time for personal conversations. Get off Zoom and make an impromptu phone call just to check in. It will invite others to offer input that in invaluable to your organization and cultural health.

4. Serve others

Your job as a leader is be the boss while serving others.  As an ethical leader, your role is to serve others to enable them to be their most effective and productive team members. By serving others, you actually are serving your goal of a successful business, one that only others can help you achieve.

5. Build a community

In a time of crisis, it's normal for leadership and teams to become siloed (both literally and physically these days). An ethical leader connects members of their team to other members for shared goals, interests, or other reasons. These new-found connections between team members will foster a spirit of community in your organization and create a collaborative spirit where the best work is done.

6. Demonstrate justice

As humans we all have bias, favorites, opinions, and unique points of view, but an ethical leader always illustrates justice in decision making.  When the tough call comes, an ethical leader should put personal preference aside and make decisions that the team will know is just. Value ethical actions over expedient ones. Your team might not like your final decision but they will ultimately respect the decision as just.

7. Broadcast your Principles & Values

Communicate and demonstrate by your principles and values to your organization.  Principles can be inconvenient at times, but they are the foundational guidelines to one’s behavior. The people who follow your leadership will see your actions.  There may be times when they do not fully understand the basis of the decision, which can lead to mistrust or simple distain for your decision.  As with the justice trait, it is important that you clearly and consistently broadcast your principles so that when the time comes to make a difficult judgement call, your team understands “the why” of your decision.  

Leadership is challenging for those who lead and for those that follow, and in a time of crisis, when it’s tempting to simply react to the decisions that lay before you. I assure you an ethical approach to leadership will not only be better received by your team, it will resonate within you and the company’s bottom line. 

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