By Randall Slikkers
he recent events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the subsequent attempt by the nation to grapple with its aftermath, bring a very important issue about ethics to the forefront: Leadership.
There is just no two ways about it. Without the top-level management in your tribal organization demonstrating leadership on the ethical and moral compass of your enterprise, little else can be accomplished in the way of running a strong, ethical business.
If you are going to demonstrate ethical leadership for your organization, you must have an active strategy towards that goal. We all know one of the key components of leadership is setting and achieving strategy. I’ve talked about that many times in this column.
From an ethical perspective, this can best be illustrated by what I call the “Ethics Leadership Circle.” Each of the four-directions represents a critical step in ensuring those you are leading actually feel your presence. We’ve seen by recent events what a vacuum in leadership can do, and it’s not a good result.
We start the Ethics Leadership Circle in the East. Its domain: Words. A leader cannot be silent, for this silence can be interpreted differently by many people. A leader must make clear what they stand for. While words alone can never do it all, they are the start to ensure that your ethics strategy is communicated. Certainly, this can and should be done through the course of running your organization. However, it becomes critical during times of crises or uncertainty. By coming out and clearly and firmly defining your stance on the issue, you bring clarity to the situation and those affected by it.
Next, we move to the South. Its domain: Deeds. As said above, words are rarely enough. A good leader then sets out the execution of the ethics strategy. What specific things can be done to deal with the current crisis? What are the action steps? Many times, the actual damage of the crisis has passed. It’s the emotional and recurrent damage that is facing you. In the case of Charlottesville, the demonstration and violence were over, but the ongoing understanding of what happened, and how to prevent it from happening again was and is critical. What steps need to be taken? What things can you do in your sphere of influence?
From there, we move to the West. Its domain: Organizational Practices. These are the things that should have already been in place to deal with a crisis when it hits. If you had established organizational practices, then you can review if they were effective. (An example of an existing ethics practice would be your whistleblower policy.) If you did not have any, you can review which would have been important to have, and ensure that these are put into place to be more prepared for the next crisis.
And finally, we move to the North. Its domain: Reassurance. We know leadership and its activities are not one-time events. When a crisis or major event is affecting the people you are leading, either from within the organization or without, they need continued assurance that the issue is being dealt with. It is important to mention here that no-one is comforted by false assurances. And if they are false, that usually becomes apparent very quickly. You can provide assurance by making sure there is constant and consistent communication on and about the issue. Identify the deeds and organizational practices and outline how they are contributing to the solution. We all feel better when we receive true reassurance.
It is incumbent on leadership to drive the ethics of the organization and its mission. While one thinks of strategic and financial planning as integral parts of leadership, ethics is no less important. Tribal enterprises/organizations will always need strong ethic leadership. This reminds me of one of my favorite, and simple leadership quotes. It is from Admiral Chester Nimitz, who played a major role in the naval history of World War II as Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet. “When you’re in command, command.” Take command of your leadership in ethics. ♦
Randall G. Slikkers, MBA, is president and CEO of Nonprofitstronger.com. Contact him at (202) 888-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org