Ethical Leadership - The experience of JCU's 3rd IBD cohort

Chapter 3 – The Leader’s Character

This content looks inward into the character of leaders.  Ethical leaders need a foundation of positive traits and virtues. 

I.            Elements of Character

a   .       Character plays strongly into leadership.  Examples of poor traits of greed, arrogance, dishonesty, ruthlessness have come out in corporate corruption in Jeff Shilling (Enron), Martha Stewart.

b  .      “Level  5 Leaders” (the top tier of CEOs evaluated) have shown to downplay their roles and instead, tend to give others the credit for good company performance.

c.       Those who follow virtue ethics develop a description of the ideal person and find the admirable traits that make of the character of that person.  3 important features of virtues are:

                                                              i  .      Woven into inner life of leaders

                                                            ii  .      Shape the way leaders see and behave

                                                          iii.      Operate independently of the situation

d.      Virtuous leaders do not abandon their principles to please followers.  Some important virtues of leaders are:

                                                              i.      Courage (overcoming fear to do the right thing)

                                                            ii.      Integrity (public image = private thoughts/acts)

                                                          iii.      Humility (humbleness) -> 3 components:

1.       Self-awareness (objectively assess own strengths/opportunities)

2.       Openness (new ideas/knowledge)

3.       Transcendance (acknowledge power greater than self)

                                                           iv.      Reverance (capacity to feel awe, respect, shame when appropriate)

                                                             v.      Optimism (expecting positive future outcomes)

                                                           vi.      Compassion (concern, care, generosity, love)

                                                         vii.      Justice -> 2 components:

1.       Obligation to the common good

2.       Treating others equally/fairly

II.      Case Study 3.1 – The Hero as Optimist

a.       Scottish explorer Ernest Shackleton set out to cross the entire continent of Antarctica in October 1914, despite Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s success in reaching the South Pole

b.      During his expedition, his ship was trapped and crew isolated until 15 months later when marooned onto an uninhabited island; despite the challenges and distance, Shackleton and his crew reached South Georgia Island 800 miles away

c.       Credit is given to Shackleton’s physical nature, fairness, openness, and  individual consideration of crew members’ personal strengths and weakness

d.      He claims optimism as his most valued virtue.  His compassion and idealized influence inspired crew members and enabled them to overcome the challenge.


III.    Finding Role Models

a.       Seeing examples of those who exemplify traits listed above is often more effective than learning about those traits in a book.  Role models are crucial as someone that observers can observe and imitate.

                                                              i.      Several examples exist, like those who are whistleblowers in the organization when they recognized ethics violations.

b.      Moral processes

                                                              i.      Moral projects (individual learning efforts to increase morals by following a “moral leader,” which is someone set out to reduce corruption)

                                                            ii.      Moral work (has no beginning or end, but strives for ethical consistency as a way of life)

                                                          iii.      Moral workers embody these moral processes, and they have 3 common characteristics:

1.       Certainty (sure of beliefs)

2.       Positivity (positive approach to life)

3.       Unity of self and moral goals (morality = central to “who they are”)

c.       Telling and living collective stories

                                                              i.      We can learn how to build character by witnessing events, listening to stories of those who behave ethically (including fictional stories), and by sharing our stories with others.

d.      Learning from hardship

                                                              i.      We most admire those who’ve endured greatest hardship

                                                            ii.      5 common categories of hardship events:

1.       Business mistakes/failures (losing an important client, failed programs/relationships.  Helps leaders to recognize limitations, build stronger working relationships and profit from mistakes)

2.       Career setbacks (missed promotions, demotions, firing.  Can serve as wake-up calls, and get feedback about weaknesses.  Encourages leaders to take more responsibility for managing their careers)

3.       Personal trauma (divorce, cancer, death.  Drives a point home to leaders that they cannot control the world around them.  Can lead to better work/life balance, how to accept help from others)

4.       Problem employees (those who steal, defraud, can’t perform.  Leaders lose the illusion that they can turn these employees around.  Can improve skills at confronting a subordinate)

5.       Downsizing (Leader losing job through no fault of their own.  Can help leader develop coping skills.  Leaders doing the downsizing can learn by developing more empathy for the feelings of followers)

e.      Developing habits (repeated routines/practices to foster virtuous behavior)

                                                              i.      7 habits of effective and ethical leaders:

1.       Be proactive (ability to choose how to respond to events.  Attacking a problem instead of accepting defeat)

2.       Begin with the end in mind (first, get a mental picture of the accomplishment, then follow through with plans)

3.       Put first things first (organize around priorities)

4.       Think win-win (cooperative approach to communication, finding a solution that benefits both parties)

5.       Seek first to understand, then to be understood (focus to understand, not evaluate, advise, or interpret)

6.       Synergize (seeks to discover new alternatives to the problem where individuals value each others’ differences and have trusting relationships)

7.       Sharpen the saw (keeping mentally, socially, emotionally, energies fresh by proactive measures, such as exercise, nutrition, stress management)

                                                            ii.      Developing mission statements (best way to keep end in mind)

                                                          iii.      An alternate method for discovering personal leadership purpose is based on Native American culture, where there are 9 cairns/markers noted:

1.       Call your purpose; listen for guidance (take a step back from everyday life and think about your purpose)

2.       Find a sacred place (for reflection)

3.       See time as continuous; begin with the child and move to the present (think about the impacts from the past – family, culture, geography – to consider where you’ll head in the future)

4.       Identify special skills/talents; accept imperfections (know your strengths and don’t expect to be perfect in every way.  Identify major failures)

5.       Trust your intuition (sometimes, act on hunches and emotions)

6.       Open the door when opportunity knocks (readiness to response to activities outside of your control.  Consider how the new opportunity can prepare use for what’s to come in life)

7.       Find your passion and make it happen (Do what energizes you)

8.       Write your life story; imagine a great leader

9.       Honor your legacy, one step at a time (build upon small successes)

                                                           iv.      Identify values (moral compass to guide journey) -> 6 major value types:

1.       Theoretical (those seek to discover truth and pride selves on objectivity and rationality)

2.       Economic (those who focus on usefulness)

3.       Aesthetic (value form and harmony)

4.       Social (highest value is love of others)

5.       Political (seeks power)

6.       Religious (seek unity through understanding and linkage to cosmos as a whole)




IV.    Case Study 3.2 – “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap and “Mensch” Aaron Feuerstein

a.       Al Dunlap increased the value of Lily-Tulip and Scott Paper, whose sale earned $100 million in options, by “ferociously” cutting costs and employees to increase the firm’s value; this style was extolled by media and Wall Street for his “only shareholders matter” management style

b.      When Dunlap’s next company, Sunbeam, began to fall short of income expectations, he created buy-and-hold sales to inflate revenue; when this was discovered, he could not reverse course due to firing good workers and ruined business relationships

                                                              i.      Followers’ greed, media praise, and fear of Dunlap prevented opposition from stepping forward

c.       Malden Mills CEO Aaron Feuerstein in December 1995, promised to continue paying wages and rebuild the factory after a huge fire burnt down the plant

d.      Even with the temptation of a $300 million settlement, Feuerstein attributes his decision to his religious values of being a “mensch” or “man with a heart” in Yiddish

                                                              i.      Yet, due to financial issues from increased debt to rebuild the factory, bankruptcy was filed; soon after, Feuerstein retired, the organization had increasingly poor labor relationship, bankruptcy was filed again, and the company was sold to private investors

V.      Case Study 3.3 – Greatest Reformer in History

a.       William Wilberforce from 1759-1833 championed nearly 100 different issues to reform society and abolish slavery (achieving this during his lifetime)

b.      He overcome personal and external opposition to achieving his goals: his short stature, colitis, and threats from merchants and media

c.       His optimism, humility, and open mind and ears allowed him to see the positive in everyone and establish strong relationships, even offering slave traders a way to be compensated for abolition of slavery