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

Chapter 8 - Building an Effective, Ethical Small Group

“Leaders are people who have an unusual degree of power to create conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can be either as illuminating as heaven or shadowy as hell”

Leaders spend a great deal of their time in small groups, either chairing or participating in meetings. It is reasonable to assume that the higher up the corporate ladder you climb the more time you must dedicate to meetings, task forces, or other small groups.

Groups meet for many different purposes: to coordinate activities, to pass along important information to clarify misunderstandings, and to build relationships.


-          Congressional subcommittees debating the morality of inheritance tax

-          Local united way meeting to discuss a large funding request from an abortion clinic

-          Foreign aid officials meeting to decide whether to send food and supplies to nations ruled by dictators

-          Corporate executives meeting to decide how to dispose of toxic waste

A group’s success or failure is highly dependent on the behaviors of its individual members

-          A team is only as strong as its weakest link*

-          Cooperation is key

o       Those pursuing individual goals will ignore the goals of the group at the expense of the group.

-          Case Study 8.1 – Tougher Safety Standards for All-Terrain Vehicles

o       Concurrent with increase in sales of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) has been the number of deaths and emergency room visits, which doubled between 1995 and 2005

o       The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released regulations on models and use by children to curb the danger, yet ride stability and rider safety still remained a problem

o       civic groups have called for increased regulation and removal of certain makes of ATVs while companies that produce the vehicles blame the riders, citing ignored regulations for 80% of deaths

§         How would you handle the situation as a member of the CPSC?


Cooperative groups are more productive because they:

-          Are more willing to take on difficult tasks

-          Retain more information

-          Generate more creative ideas

-          Are more positive about the tasks

-          Spend more time working on tasks

As a leader you can focus attention on shared goals by: (1) emphasizing the moral responsibility members have to cooperate with one another. (2) structuring the task so that no one person succeeds unless the group as a whole does. (3) ensuring that all group members are fairly rewarded.

Be very aware of social loafing and do everything in your power to eliminate it.

-          Definition: individuals who reduce their efforts when placed in groups.


Resist Groupthink!

Groupthink leads to a failure to:

-          Consider all alternatives

-          Gather all relevant information

-          Reexamine a course of action when it is not working

-          Carefully weigh risks

-          Work out contingency plans

-          Discuss important moral issues

A failure to address Groupthink can lead to:

-          Illusion of invulnerability: over-optimism

-          Belief in the inherent morality of the group: members ignore ethical consequences

-          Collective rationalization: members invent rationalizations to protect themselves from negative feedback

-          Stereotypes of outside groups: member will underestimate the capabilities of other groups

-          Pressure on Dissenters: dissenters are coerced to go along with prevailing opinion of the group even if it is immoral or wrong

-          Self-censorship: Members keep negative thoughts to themselves

-          Illusion of unanimity: member mistakenly assume everyone agrees because nobody speaks up

-          Self-appointed mindguards: certain members take it on themselves to protect the leader and others from dissenting opinions that might disrupt the group’s consensus.

Communication is key to both the relationships between group members and the quality of their ethical choices.

Dialogue is key for the following reasons:

-          Presence: participants in dialogue are less interested in a specific outcome than they are working with members to come up with best possible solutions

-          Emergent unanticipated consequences: dialogue produces unpredictable results that are not controlled by any one person in the group.

-          Recognition of “strange otherness”: for dialogue to flourish the members must be open to differences of opinion, feelings, or intentions of others.

-          Collaborative orientation: Dialogue demands a dual focus on both self and others

-          Vulnerability: dialogue is risky because member open their thoughts to others and may be influenced by the encounter

-          Mutual implication: speakers engaged in dialogue ALWAYS keep listeners in mind when speaking. Doing so will help discover new information about yourself and audience.

-          Temporal flow: Dialogue can be cut into segments, it takes time and emerges over the course of group discussion

-          Genuineness and authenticity: participants in dialogue give others the benefit of the doubt with respect to honestly and straightforwardness. Do not deliberately hide thoughts and feelings as it may detract for overall effectiveness.

Expect to do significantly more listening in a group than you do talking. Expect to spend 10% talking and 90% listening in a group of ten. Pay attention, do not interrupt, and remember the key message trying to be communicated.

Improve listening performance by the following:

-          Avoid interruptions: give the speaker a chance  to finish before you respond or ask questions as these questions may be addressed by the time the speaker finishes

-          Seek areas of agreement: take a positive approach by seeking common ground

-          Search for meaning and avoid arguing about specific words

-          Ask questions and request clarification when you do not understand

-          BE PATIENT

-          Compensate for attitudinal biases meaning do not dismiss somebody because of a high voice, elvis hairdos , or somebody who uses a lot of “ums” when speaking.

-          Listen for principals, concepts, and feelings

-          BE FLEXIBLE

-          Listen, even if the message is boring or tough to follow

Defensive vs Supportive Communication

-          Evaluation vs description: you will come across as judgmental. Ex: what a dumb idea

-          Control vs problem orientation: imply the recipient is inadequate. Ex: threats or belittlement

-          Strategy vs spontaneity: strategic communicators can come across as manipulative

-          Neutrality vs empathy: neutrality said “I don’t care” try saying “I understand”

-          Superiority vs equality: attempts at one-upmanship will immediately provoke a defensive response.

-          Certainty vs provisionalism: Dogmatic group members are unwilling to change or consider other points of view.

Productive Conflict: Substantive

Positive Outcomes:

-          Accurate understanding of the arguments and positions of others in the group

-          Higher-level moral reasoning

-          Thorough problem analysis

-          Improved self-understanding

-          Creativity and change

-          Increased group cohesion

-          Improved ability to deal with future conflicts

Leaders can encourage or spark substantive conflict by utilizing INDIVIDUALIZATION.

-          That said, leaders must be sure to lay some procedural ground rules so positive conflict does not turn negative and wreak havoc on teamwork and effectiveness

Making arguments is the best way to influence others when the group is faced with a controversial decision!      

-          Argumentative people are more likely to emerge as leaders*

-          Case Study 8.2 – Incentives for Organ Donations

o       No more than half of Americans who need transplants die while waiting for the organs they need; while the demand for organs is still rising, the supply has stayed unfortunately flat

o       Suggestions to incentivize organ donation include encouragement of collection from cadavers and a government-regulated marketplace such as is found in poorer countries that sell organs to richer nations

o       Another suggestion is to make people eligible only if that have been registered donors for 2 years or more

§         yet, with other similar incentives, can it be expected that someone cannot have this possibly life-saving procedure without taking assignment to give to others?

-          Case Study 8.3 – Responding to Groupthink and Faulty Reasoning at NASA

o       After the Columbia disaster  occurred on Jan 31, 2003, film was reviewed to determine the source of the explosion; Mission leader Linda Ham downplayed the foam piece as detrimental to the shuttle

o       Further review was limited due to inappropriate software review and refusal for evidence; possible information from low-level employees never surfaced due to broken communication lines and fear of rebuttal from high-level personnel

o       The groupthink culture was exposed thereafter; faulty reasoning strategies and broken communication lines were to blame; since then, the review and risk evaluation process has greatly improved protecting future runs