I never aspired to be an ethical leader before this class. It is not that I acted unethically, but that I never understood the importance of being an ethical leader. As a child, I was constantly changing my mind about what I was going to be when I grew up, but never once did “ethical” cross my mind. It seems as though this is a common theme among human beings, that we see success through the masculine lens of materialism and consumerism. Being able to acquire the newest, biggest, most innovative thing is what motivates us from a very young age.
This is not something to be necessarily ashamed about, because at one point or another, everyone acts out of self-interest and solely for self-advancement. The thing that has to change, however, is the amount of fully-grown adults who still act out of self interest, and more specifically, adults in leadership roles, managing corporations, institutions, cities, states, and countries, that pull their team in the right direction for themselves, and not necessarily for the organization.
This class has taught me who I am, both as an individual and as a part of a cohesive team, who I can be, thanks to the concepts and thought-provoking readings and lectures, and how I can get there by utilizing these concepts and strategies. Throughout the course of this semester, I have been able to continue producing the same amount of success as I have in the past, but I have been able to do it the “right” way. By identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to those opportunities of my personality and character, I have been able to identify my true self. This identification process is the first step toward becoming an ethical and moral example for peers, subordinates, and even superiors, both in a professional sense and in a personal sense.
“History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.” – B. R. Ambedkar
This quote, spoken by Indian scholar B. R. Ambedkar, shows the belief in the common phrase, “business ethics is an oxymoron.” It is this mentality that
began the self-fulfilling prophecy that business leaders use as an excuse for unethical behavior. The “slippery slope” of ethical breakdowns, as Badaracco calls it, begins with a mentality that justifies the diversion of ethics and economics. Throughout the rest of this exploration of the current self, the prospective self, and the presentation of a development plan, I will disprove this mentality. Current Self
In order to effectively assess one’s ethical and moral fortitude, one must objectively identify his strengths and weaknesses relative to being an exemplary ethical leader. Furthermore, one must then address each individual aspect of his personality, including character traits, values, and integrity through relative ethical concepts and principles. By executing this process, one can truly learn about oneself and identify the necessary steps to becoming the possible self, or leader he wants to become. The process of identifying your own strengths and weaknesses can be difficult, especially in terms of being completely unbiased and objective. The key to successfully doing this is in relying on factual evidence that supports each strength and weakness. To be considered either, however, there must be a certain consistency in terms of actions as well as intent, which proves the validity of each strength or weakness.
During my self-exploration, I thought back to some of my first memories in order to serve as a foundation for my moral potency and character, and to see how my experiences have shaped my personality, both positively and negatively. This process has given me perspective and helped me attain the knowledge necessary to complete an objective report of my own personality, values, skills, characteristics, and motivations. Without this process, I would have been subject to a common decision making fallacy that was taught in my organizational behavior class, known as the tendency to use information at hand, which describes a person’s inclination to make a decision based on readily-available information, rather than fact-based evidence. In this case, the “readily-available information” would be anecdotes and experiences that “stick out” in my memory.
These examples are not necessarily wrong to use, but basing my process on them wholly would provide data inconsistent with my true personality. Since I can remember, I have always been a fierce competitor. This is shown through my spirited drive to achieve that has permeated my entire life, from academics, to extracurricular activities, to athletics. This competitiveness has both positive and negative effects on my leadership abilities, because I am driven and motivated to achieve goals, but can prove dangerous in team situations where group consensus is necessary. The competitive nature that is ingrained in my personality can lead to a concept called “me-ism”, described by Badaracco in chapter 4, which explains the phenomenon of being so goal-oriented that you lose sight of the effects that your actions have on other people.
This concept can also relate to Badaracco’s inattentional blindness and motivated blindness, which describe occurrences in which one’s personal goals or lack of careful observation override that person’s ability to sense an ethical dilemma. My competitive nature has led to many successes in my life, including winning the New York under-18 state hockey championship, becoming the first non-senior to be an alternate captain on the Wake Forest club ice hockey team, and of course being accepted into this business school.
These examples are all evidence of my competitive nature, and describe my desire to lead and win simultaneously. The concept of the future is tremendously fascinating to me. In another BEM class that I took this semester, we did a personality assessment that included over one hundred twenty questions and returned your five biggest personality strengths, and “futurism” was one of mine. I truly enjoy thinking about the future because of its uncertainty. I feel so much potential and possibility for myself, which is strengthened by my competitiveness.
My ability to constantly think about the future while still keeping my “feet on the ground” and completing my assignments in the present is one of my most powerful strengths. My futurism keeps me on track toward achieving my personal and organizational goals. Becoming a transformational leader begins with the futurist outlook combined with a strong moral potency, which is the combination of three moral factors: moral ownership, moral courage, and moral efficacy. Moral potency, when combined with futurism, provides a leader with a strong moral and ethical foundation on which to base decisions, as well as the ability to envision the potential of a given organization. By acting in this way, a leader can start a chain reaction called the contagion effect, which is the phenomenon that occurs by promoting a transparent, ethical, and fair environment, starting from the C-level executives and “infecting” every employee underneath.
The aforementioned strengths of mine, a strong competitive nature and a futuristic outlook provide me with an ethically-ambiguous foundation, meaning that both highly ethical and highly unethical leaders sport these qualities, and the actions that I make within the next few years will decide on which end of the spectrum I fall. In order for me to ensure that I do not start down the slippery slope of unethical decisions, I must be conscious of the fact that each decision I make has ethical implications, and I also must be weary of my weaknesses that could lead me down the wrong path. Acknowledging one’s weaknesses is critical to the process of defining your current self. As the saying goes, “nobody’s perfect,” and the only way to minimize the mistakes you make throughout your life is to accept the fact that you do have weaknesses, and to analyze what they are, why you have them, how you act on them, and how to correct them.
My competitive drive has led me to have a strong desire to please authority figures, which is a major weakness of my personality, not in the sense that it is bad to desire recognition and achievement, but it frequently leads to Machiavellian, “ends justify the means” justifications of morally questionable actions. One of Badaracco’s ethical breakdowns, which he discusses in chapter five, the overvaluation of outcomes, directly relates to this personality trait. Two years ago I interned for a brokerage firm on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and my boss was a task-oriented, results-driven leader, a common type in the financial sector. He demanded that the team of four interns provide a daily projection of trade volume based on an algorithm and spreadsheets dating back to the early 1990’s. After being reprimanded by our boss for presenting him with unfavorable figures, we began to slightly alter the bottom line to get his approval.
In this situation, we made a major ethical mistake by overvaluing the results. With the knowledge I have gained from this class, I would have analyzed the decision to alter the numbers using the categorical imperative, and in this situation, especially in the financial sector, it would be a very bad thing if my actions became universal norms. Fortunately, the trade projections were strictly internal, and I found out later in the internship that my boss would assign this project to new interns as a way of “breaking them in” and showing them the harshness of the business world. This desire to please has affected my leadership skills mostly within the context of leading peers, because, when combined with my competitive nature, I realize that there are few things that I will not consider doing to get ahead, which will ostracize me from my peers and create a divide within the group, decreasing my ability to influence others around me.
Another weakness of mine is my tendency to overuse legitimate power when it is given to me. Legitimate power, which is defined as power bestowed upon someone over others, can come as a promotion, as it did in my case, when I was voted captain of my varsity hockey team in high school. This promotion gave me nominal power over my teammates off of the rink, but it was enough to leverage and coerce them to follow my orders. Trevino and Nelson outline the psychology I used to justify this behavior in chapter five, in their discussion of informal organizational cultural systems. The norms usually override formal rules, according to Trevino and Nelson. “…Despite formal rules, regulations, codes, and credos, informal norms are frequently the most influential behavior guides and clues to the culture”.
The rationalization that “it’s the way we do things around here” was understood by my teammates, because the captain before me was the same way. It is this lack of moral potency to realize the unethical behavior and act on my personal values that makes this a weakness of mine. In the heat of the moment, it is hard to stop yourself and think about ethical philosophy, but necessary to promote the organizational culture that is conducive and necessary to running a hockey team. This self-exploration has provided me with a sound basis to analyze myself and prepare to make the jump into the business world with a strong moral compass and the ability to create a working plan to become the exemplary leader that I wish to be. However, first I must decide and articulate exactly what kind of leader that is. Possible Self
The second step in becoming an exemplary ethical leader is to identify your possible self, that is, the leader that you wish to become at some point in the future. This can be done in a multi-step process, first by identifying exemplary leaders that serve as role models or mentors to you, and then by analyzing their leadership qualities and determining which of those you wish to attain. It is undeniable that every ethical leader chooses to lead with character and integrity, two of the most important characteristics necessary to manage an organization, but just how do you define character?
According to Professor Sean Hannah, character is defined by three aspects: moral discipline, moral attachment or attainment, and moral autonomy. The combination of these facets provides a solid basis for the quantification of leadership characteristics. Moral discipline outlines the ability to act in alignment with your personal values, while moral attachment or attainment refers to one’s ability to hold true to your values over time, and moral autonomy is the ability to formulate moral decisions based on your values and decision-making skills, without the influence of outside factors. Both character and integrity play instrumental roles in the development of ethical leaders, as well as in their ability to become role models for lower-level employees.
My most recent role model for ethical leadership is Dean Reinemund, because he has been extremely successful as a leader in two vastly different industries, which shows that he has the skills necessary to lead, regardless of the situational context. During his guest lecture in our class, Dean Reinemund spoke about his “Four C’s of Leadership.” I believe that these four characteristics are immensely important to become a transformational leader with a vision that inspires employees to work at the highest level possible. The first “C” is character, which Mr. Reinemund describes as having your internal compass point to “true north”. Having the character to act in correlation with personal and organizational values in the face of adversity is an extremely admirable quality, and is something that I wish to have in my possible self.
Mr. Reinemund’s third “C” is the one that resonated with me the most, particularly because it is the only aspect of his leadership philosophy that cannot be readily learned. Commitment, Reinemund says, is the passionate, internal drive to succeed, and it is something that is ingrained in your personality. Although you can motivate yourself through other, extrinsic means, the “warrior’s ambition” that Mr. Reinemund describes is a burning internal passion for the work that is being done. This is another facet of an exemplary leader that cannot be left out.
Badaracco writes about Aristotle’s “Golden Mean” in terms of leadership by describing the balance between having a high concern for oneself and having a high concern for others. By attaining this equilibrium, leaders can act ethically and morally to provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This philosophy also relates to Badaracco’s four spheres of commitments that leaders have to navigate during each and every decision they make. Managing the four spheres is an integral part of being an exemplary leader and must be included in my definition of an exemplary leader.
The last piece of leadership that I would like to emulate as an exemplary leader is the characteristics of a quiet leader. Modesty, self-restraint, patience, and careful, incremental moves can right, or even prevent, moral wrongdoings without blowing the issue out of proportion. The public displays of heroism, as coined by Badaracco, depicted in movies and television are usually extremely unnecessary and their emotionalism and lack of careful planning undercuts their credibility, while simultaneously decreasing the amount of empathy received from the listener. Being a quiet leader means doing the right thing, especially when nobody is looking, and that is why I admire such a quality and desire to be the quiet leader who allows his exemplary actions speak for him. Action Plan
The third and final step to becoming an exemplary ethical leader is to formulate and execute an actionable leadership development plan, which outlines the steps necessary to transform the current self into the desired possible self. By identifying my strengths and weaknesses, and then identifying the ideal leader that I want to become, I can precisely calculate the discrepancy between the two, and what specific steps I need to take in order to become the exemplary leader I want to be.
By using course concepts and relating them to my current self, I have come up with the following steps for my action plan: 1. Do not underestimate the weight of any one decision, no matter how seemingly insignificant it may be 2. Follow Badaracco’s steps to becoming a quiet leader
3. Apply Trevino & Nelson’s 8 steps to recognized ethical dilemmas 4. Read and reflect on the characteristics of an Authentic Leader every day 5. Establish a strong support group to help assist my decision making and provide comprehensive unbiased feedback These five steps, if followed correctly, will create the optimal environment to foster my development as an exemplary leader. My action plan is conducive to the type of leader that I want to be, because it focuses on further improving my strengths, and transforming my weaknesses into strengths by utilizing concepts and strategies learned in class.
The first step is the most important one, because due to my competitive nature, I have a tendency to rush decisions in order to complete tasks more efficiently, but in the long run, especially in the professional world, I must be able to recognize the ethicality of each decision I make. By analyzing every decision I make from now on, whether it is my choice of shampoo or a multi-million dollar contract, I will be able to acknowledge the ethical repercussions of each alternative.
My second step is to follow Badaracco’s steps to becoming a quiet leader, particularly the second rule, which says to “pick your battles”, and outlines the concept of political capital. Leadership is not defined by how many times you “blow the whistle”, but how much of an impact you had when you did decide to take a stand. Consequentially, I must make ethical decisions like Machiavelli’s fox rather than the lion. By building political capital and using it wisely, the respect that colleagues, superiors, and employees show you will increase, and therefore your ability to influence them will also increase, which will allow you to lead with confidence.
Trevino & Nelson’s 8-Steps to ethical decision making are extremely important, because they provide a framework for which to analyze and come to a conclusion about any decision. The “action” piece of this step is simple: I have handwritten the steps on a small piece of paper and put it in my wallet, so that I can refer to it in any situation. By slowing down and analyzing each choice I make in terms of these 8 steps, I’ll be able to consistently make the best decision possible, which will instill confidence in my peers as well as show potential to my superiors. On the reverse side of my wallet-sized 8 steps, I have written the characteristics of an Authentic Leader, because I believe that simply being a quiet leader is not sufficient.
Being a quiet leader is a great way to get things done, but in the long term may result with my leadership becoming “silent” leadership, wherein my peers and employees cannot easily see how I analyze ethical dilemmas and may start to infer that I rely on bottom-line statistics only. This is where the slippery slope begins, and my fourth step will counteract the possibility of being perceived as ethically neutral. My final step is to create a support group of people from different parts of my life, including peers such as friends and classmates, superiors (teachers and coaches), and subordinates such as the younger players on my hockey team. By establishing this group, I will be able to ask them to give me feedback on my projected personality. The first four steps of my action plan are important to my development as a leader, however they will be meaningless if what people perceive about me is different than what I want.
Moreover, a support group will help me integrate my different lives, as Dean Reinemund spoke about in his lecture, by teaching me that in order to be perceived as an exemplary leader, I must have complete alignment between my espoused personal values and my in-use values in every aspect of my life. Solely having an action plan, however, will not give me the results I desire, which is why I must set both short and long term goals for myself in my journey to becoming an ethical leader. Short-term goals are imperative to maintaining my improvement in leadership skills, because without consistent feedback, it is impossible to gauge one’s progress. The support group I establish will provide me with that feedback. Specifically, I will create a point-based survey and ask each person in my support group to complete it. By doing this, I will have quantitative results at the end of each month to see which areas of my personality need improvement.
By setting short-term goals, my competitive nature will enhance my desire to improve, until I reach my long-term goals. Perhaps the most challenging task of this assignment was to envision the evolution of my personality from a college student to a business leader, because I did not know exactly how to set long-term goals. After thinking it through, I believe that the most pertinent long-term goal that I can set is to reflect on my life as a leader, and have no decisions that I regret making. This seems vague, but it must be in order to work. By achieving short-term monthly goals, I will achieve my long-term goal as a result, which is the express purpose of short-term goals. If I can look back on my life as a leader when I retire, and I can honestly say that there is not a single decision that I made or failed to make that resulted in an unethical consequence, I will consider
myself a success. Conclusion
Throughout the course of this assignment, as well as the class as a whole, I have been exposed to completely new ways of analyzing situations and have been able to integrate those concepts and strategies into my daily life. By creating this action plan for the development of my character and leadership skills; I have begun the preparation necessary to successfully lead in the business world, which is an incredibly valuable head start on students in other business schools around the country.
B. R. Ambedkar’s pessimistic quote regarding the ethics versus economics dynamic that I used earlier in the paper was a perfect way for me to gauge the effectiveness of my action plan. I believe that through the analysis of my current self, the reflection and projection of my possible self, and the creation of my leadership development plan, I have been able to disprove the mentality that “business ethics is an oxymoron” and begin to strengthen the mentality that “ethics is good business, and good business is ethical.”
1. Sean Hannah, class lectures and PowerPoint presentations, 8/29/2012-12/4/2012 2. Hannah & Avolio, Moral Potency: Building the Capacity for Character-Based Leadership 3. Trevino & Nelson, Managing Business Ethics
4. Badaracco, Defining Moments
5. George, Sims, McLean, & Mayer, Discovering Your Authentic Leadership 6. Badaracco, We Don’t Need Another Hero
7. Reinemund, class lecture 10/4/2012
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