...until you have to believe it!
We began this month facilitating a session on Ethics and Values for our local chamber’s Leadership Institute which we helped develop and facilitate. Later, we received our latest issue of West Point magazine published by the Association of Graduates from my alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. The issue is dedicated to how they teach character at West Point. It seems the universe is saying we are due for an article on Leadership Ethics and Values so, here goes!
When we speak of ethical value-based leadership, we are more specifically talking about ethical value-based decision-making. But to truly understand ethics and values in context, we need to ensure we are grounded in a few key definitions. We define values as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of action or outcomes and reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “should be”. Ethics, on the other hand, are a set of moral values or principles that affect how people make decisions acting as community guidelines for appropriate conduct. Beliefs are the thoughts that form the foundation for ethics and values. Therefore, a belief system is one that essentially aligns the community-based ethical principles with the individual’s value-based judgements of right and wrong.
Getting back to the title then, most leaders outwardly profess to having a set of beliefs as they lead their organizations. These beliefs are displayed in many different forms such as vision statements, values statements, purpose statements, etc. We see them proudly displayed on organizational websites, posters neatly framed and hung on lobby and conference room walls as well as well-scripted annual reports and organizational roundtables. However, the only demonstration of the belief system in the organization is in the form of the leader’s actions!
The leader’s actions portray and/or betray their true attitudes and beliefs, especially in the today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business environment. In one of the articles in the West Point magazine mentioned earlier, they defined a term we had not heard before called phronesis. “Phronesis is the virtue that enables [leaders] to perceive, understand and act admirably in complex situations.” Ancient Greek philosophers positioned it as the practical wisdom that transcends technical and intellectual knowledge to judgements and decisions especially in the light of moral and/or ethical dilemmas.
Writing this article took us back to multiple situations where our decisions would upset some on the team yet stayed in alignment with our stated beliefs and values. For instance, not hesitating to let go a very talented employee who committed fraud by forging a contract signature or releasing a high sales performer who was clearly being allowed to live outside the value-based expectations because they were a high producer. In these and many others like them, the decisions would have been very different if the belief system was not integral to the organizational culture.
It is fair to say far too many beliefs, values, principles are given lip service for the sake of profit and self-orientation (defined as a degree a leader focuses on their own goals over those of their team). No matter where we look, the workforce is paying more attention to the actions that do or do not reflect the stated beliefs and values espoused by their leaders. When the words and actions do not align, higher churn will occur. When they do align, those organizations will be the ones we look forward to celebrating and supporting for years to come!
What do you believe in as a leader that your team sees in your actions?