Ethics often receives a bad rap. Much of the press on the topic focuses on the negative impact of making ethical mistakes. We hear about fines, sanctions, and ethical failures. While we need to be aware of what can happen when things go wrong, there is a much more important side of ethics that concentrates on the positive benefits of ethics.
It turns out that there is a powerful positive ripple effect that consistent ethical leadership brings to organizations. In the Leading in Context Manifesto, a statement of my beliefs about the positive impact of ethical leadership, I wrote about some of the ways that ethical leadership engages a wide variety of stakeholders: “We believe that ethical leadership drives business metrics including employee engagement, customer retention and innovation. Ethical leadership creates great places to work, and gives us staying power in a global marketplace.”
10 Ways Ethics Engages Employees
While we may not immediately think about ethics when we think about employee engagement, they are closely connected. Building an ethical culture also creates the kind of environment where people can do their best work.
Here are 10 ways proactive and consistent ethical leadership can improve employee engagement.
- Send a message that the company wants to do more than the minimum standard when it comes to ethics.
- Create a safe working environment where leaders demonstrate support and care.
- Build a culture of respect for people and differences.
- Demonstrate commitment to people’s success and well-being.
- Build trust, which enables employees to get more done and enjoy their work more.
- Engage employees through community service, adding meaning to their work.
- reduce waste through sustainability efforts, and invites employees to be a part of protecting the planet.
- Ground the work of the organization in ethical values, providing an environment where much is expected, and people can accomplish great things together.
- Align the words and actions of leadership so that employees know what to expect.
- Keep leaders in a learning mode, always staying competent and open to change.
In its report, “Ethics and Employee Engagement,” the Ethics Resource Center contends: “Positive perceptions of an organization’s ethical culture are associated with higher levels of engagement. Furthermore, management’s commitment to ethics is particularly important for employee engagement.”
What is it about ethical leadership that brings out people’s best? Could it be that ethical leaders demonstrate care and concern for everyone, and build trust? Could it be that they think long-term and consider many constituents when they make decisions? Could it be that they seek solutions that are mutually beneficial, and are open to learning from others? I believe that all of these factors and more contribute to the power of proactive ethical leadership.
When we bring out the best in people through ethical leadership, they will want to bring their creativity, ideas, and enthusiasm to work. It’s time we stopped thinking about ethics as avoiding problems, and started thinking about its powerful ability to engage employees and transform our organizations.