Quinn Allan


Is your organisation ethical? More to the point, is your leadership ethical? Executives who ignore the ethical challenges presented both within and outside of their company may be failing in the worst way possible as leaders. An ethical framework is key to an ethical organisation.

Ethics isn’t just about honesty or dishonesty, such as bribe-taking or corruption. More than 80% of the time, ethical challenges are related to culture clash, incentives that promote bad behaviour rather than good, or competing interests.

Three simple but effective ways to promote ethical behaviour from the top down include:

1. Ensuring compensation and incentives are linked to ethical behaviour

Is your compensation scheme rewarding short term results, which can be gamed, or long term results, reachable only by following the company’s core values? Incentives that focus solely on production can lead to pitfalls. Instead of individualising achievement and creating a culture of cutthroat competition, involve the entire workforce in goal achievement, and share in the rewards. For personalised rewards, seek ways to incentivise loyalty long term, or introduce flex scheduling for proven employees who display citizenship behaviour.

2. Commit to true meritocracy and diversity

These two are not mutually exclusive. Create a core code of ethics and identify the type of person who embodies that code. Codes don’t know race, gender, age, or how able-bodied someone is. By committing to hiring and promoting only ethical employees, you’ll naturally see a shift to a more diverse (and more effective and productive) workforce. Diversifying your personal network as a leader also has benefits, and can help steer you on the right course during times of seemingly ethical ambiguity.

3. Listen to what employees say and don’t say

Engagement polls can help you gage how happy your employees are and what level of trust they have both in you as a leader, and the organisation as a whole. If ethics are found to be lacking, your workforce is more likely to be disgruntled, looking to leave for a better situation, or visibly ashamed of the company. Employees who take pride in their employer signal to the world that they believe in the trustworthiness of the company they work for. Consider radical transparency with employees to drive loyalty and trust.

Truly listening to your employees will increase loyalty and trust.

Once you’ve ensured that your company is successfully achieving ethical high ground, you can look outside your organisation for chances to put your ethics into action on a broader stage. Who you do business with speaks volumes as to your level of ethical responsibility. Demand accountability from partners, clients, and vendors.

By looking at ethics through the lens of leadership, you’ll be able to improve not just your own reputation, but that of the company you lead.