The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Three Ways to Put Ethical Leadership Into Action at Your Organization

This blog post was contributed by Linda Fisher Thornton, chief executive officer of Leading in Context LLC and adjunct associate professor at the University of Richmond. She spoke about ethical leadership at CUPA-HR’s virtual conference in April.

In today’s world, leaders have more information available to them than ever before, but this torrent of information isn’t helping them meet the challenges of ethical leadership. Research shows that what leaders need is not more information, but insight. We gain insight by asking questions and digging deeper into data, thus gaining a better understanding of data in the context of our organizational challenges and overarching goals and values. And although insight may lead to better thinking, it takes more than simply thinking about an idea to transform our organizations into positive, ethical workplaces.

Author Richard Bach said, “Any powerful idea is absolutely fascinating and absolutely useless until we choose to use it.” In other words, ethical leaders don’t just talk about insights, they act on them.

Here are three ways to put ethical leadership into action at your organization:

  1. Commit to Ethical Leadership
    Prominently display your team’s values in workspaces and on meeting agendas. Use your team’s values to make decisions about programming, policies and day-to-day service. Make it clear that you’re guided by those values and that you’re committed to leading with values even in the most challenging times.
  2. Move From Data to Insight
    Work with your team to define ethical terms. Assess what the team knows about its biggest ethical challenges. What insights can you gain from the data you have? Seek input on how to apply ethical values in challenging situations.
  3. Take Action to Transform the Organization
    Talk about ethics. People will always have questions, but it’s difficult to ask questions if the conversation hasn’t even begun. Help employees learn to intentionally override their assumptions and biases and look for opportunities to help others apply ethical values in their everyday work.

Your commitment to leading with values is the first step, and insight is essential in shaping our understanding of the roles we play in our organizations. However, it’s our daily actions that ultimately transform organizational culture. Saying we’re a values-based organization only works when our daily actions bring those values to life.