My article in BUSINESS INSIDER published 16thof April 2018.
The times when the head of a company was the ultimate, uncontested authority are gone forever. The world in which she or he operates has become too complex, too dynamic. Instead, every day, those at the helm of organizations can expect to encounter volatile markets, demanding employees, fickle customers, impatient investors and bloggers and journalists who traffic in unrelenting skepticism. In this environment, it can be difficult for a leader to hold a steady course, guided by what he or she knows is right for the long run, as opposed to what’s expedient in the short term. And it’s especially hard to make the quick decisions organizations need without a robust mechanism for choosing between what’s right and what’s wrong.
As the leader of a group of people, I wrestle with this. I know I have only have a very short time to sell a new idea or a business concept to my team and get its buy-in. To succeed, I must be guided by a system of values that is crystal clear, especially to me. And, most importantly, I must set an example through my actions rather than merely proclaiming a list of the organization’s values in the company newsletter. I need to live the values in my own practice as I lead others.
Dollars and sense
There are some basic questions that all leaders should ask themselves and find answers for as soon as possible. The way I see it, answering such questions frees me from the dilemmas that interfere with my decision making. One of these questions concerns the extent to which charismatic leaders – those who influences others through the vitality of their personalities and the excellence of their communication skills – can allow themselves to manipulate people. While leading the charge, and inspiring people to follow, how can one remain critical of one’s own thought processes and actions and keep one’s ego in check?
Along with very personal questions like that, every leader faces business dilemmas, many of them ethical, every day. Should they cut costs (with the best interest of their companies and employees in mind) and use the cheapest available workforce without concern for the livelihoods of their subcontractors? Should they develop future technologies knowing there may be unintended and negative consequences for many people by doing so? Should they fill orders for items which they know will contribute to surveilling people? In adopting new tools that boost efficiency (automation and robotization), should they forget about those employees that will lose their jobs to robots, not to mention workers at other companies?
The market of ethical dilemmas for leaders is always growing. Whereas it is relatively easy to set KPIs (key performance indicators) that will demonstrate that an organization is operating efficiently, effectively and profitably, and meeting all its targets, it is far more challenging to determine whether the path taken to achieve these goals is morally justified. I am confident that all good leaders would agree they are engaged in a constant balancing act between what is necessary to protect their organization’s interests and what needs to be done to uphold their personal value systems. There are no KPIs to tell right from wrong. Accordingly, I believe it is a good idea to maintain a personal ethical compass, a private code of the principles and values one wishes to live by. Such a code will serve as a guideline that can be applied whenever one is confronted with moral ambiguity, allowing one to maintain both personal and organizational integrity (as the two are entwined) and steer clear of the traps laid by rapid change that can lure one into decision-making by mere expediency. Although such code of ethics will not eliminate the difficulty of decision-making, it will certainly make it easier. It will enable us reach coherent decisions based on a clear value system, allowing the organization to be consistent and base its growth on a sound, ethical foundation. The leader of such an organization can create an environment that supports its employees, appreciates them as people (thereby getting their best ideas and work), while building a brand that consumers and clients perceive as authentic, one whose aspirations go beyond merely maximizing profits. And this makes good business sense.
Read more in the full article.