Leading with integrity: making ethics and profit work in harmony
11 July 2016
While you may not agree with Gordon Gekko in Wall Street that ‘greed is good’, ambition, the pursuit of profit and the desire to create wealth are necessary catalysts for any successful business. However, ethical behaviour and profit do not have to be mutually exclusive; in fact, they can and should be compatible. This is what Ros O’Shea argues in her new book Leading with Integrity, which:
- Makes the case for an ethical approach to leadership;
- Explores why and how leaders sometimes lose their way;
- Prescribes the personal characteristics for leading with integrity;
- Outlines methods for building an ethical organisation at home, abroad and in the boardroom; and
- Provides a robust framework for ethical decision-making.
At a time when public trust in business leaders has fallen to an all-time low, it is imperative to develop a clear, ethical approach. The leaders and organisations that listen to public demands for openness are those that will flourish in the future. In past decades, business ethics was treated as a ‘tick-the-box’ exercise, but recent financial scandals have shown the irreparable damage that can be caused by bad behaviour. It makes business sense to do the right thing.
Why and how do leaders lose their way?
We are all aware of examples (some of them high-profile) of what O’Shea refers to as the ‘dark side of leadership’, including egomaniacs, bullies, psychopaths, careerists or just the plain over-confident. For those leaders that at least intend to do the right thing, there are other, more day-day-to-day obstacles to ethical leadership or causes of ethical failure including ‘groupthink’, personal blind spots, delegated misbehaviour, wilful neglect, ill-conceived goals and flawed rationalisation.
For every executive who fails in the face of moral adversity, there are more who will remain surefooted in their approach, instinctively knowing the right thing to do and, more importantly, able to motivate others to do likewise. The competencies of ethical leadership include:
- Strong core values (‘What drives me?’),
- Emotional intelligence (‘How do I relate to others?’); and
- Authenticity (‘What makes me unique?’).
The personal groundwork required to master these competencies entails self-awareness to fully understand your ethical perspectives and articulate our own values-based approach to leadership, so that you can answer the question: ‘Why should anyone be led by you?
Building the ethical organisation
While authentic, emotionally intelligent leadership is essential to get the ‘tone at the top’ right, for an ethical culture to flourish in an organisation, it is not enough. The business also needs policies, codes of conduct and training programmes to turn primary core values into desired patterns of behaviour and to support ethical decision-making at all levels. The building blocks necessary for establishing that ethics and compliance framework are:
- Assess risk;
- Plan (develop codes of conduct);
- Act (communicate, enable good faith reporting);
- Monitor (line management, internal audit);
The board also supports an organisation’s ethical framework and is ideally placed to deliver on ethical requirements by setting the ‘tone from the top’. The core elements of the board’s ethical remit are:
- Doing the right things;
- Leading by example;
- Supporting the compliance programme;
- Asking the right questions;
- Understanding the risks;
- Overseeing the culture.
The ethical leader inspires appropriate behaviours, communicates clear expectations, creates an open, honest culture and, by example, truly leads with integrity. To illustrate these characteristics, O’Shea’s book concludes with a series of masterclasses in ethical leadership from some of Ireland’s leading business people, including Tony Smurfit (Smurfit Kappa), Siobhán Talbot (Glanbia) and Feargal O’Rourke (PwC).
Leading with Integrity: A Practical Guide to Business Ethics by Ros O’Shea is published by Chartered Accountants Ireland and retails at €30.00, is available in all good book shops nationwide and online at www.charteredaccountants.ie/books. We have three copies to give away to EngineersJournal.ie readers. To win one, just email your name, address and contact number to email@example.com by Friday, 22 July.
Ros O’Shea is an experienced business leader with a career spanning almost 20 years working with the boards and executives of two of Ireland’s largest and most-respected companies: CRH plc, where she was Head of Group Compliance & Ethics, and Smurfit Kappa Group plc. An Irish chartered accountant by profession, O’Shea is a partner in Acorn Governance Solutions, sits on the board and audit and risk committee of the Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital, is programme director for the Diploma in Governance, Risk & Compliance at the Irish Management Institute and also runs programmes for the Institute of Directors on these topics.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2016/07/11/leading-with-integrity/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Leading-with-Integrity-1024x683.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Leading-with-Integrity-300x300.jpgSponsoredindustry,leadership,management