Recent stories emanating from Amazon about its internal work practices suggest a confused moral picture. How CEO, Jeff Bezos, goes about addressing the challenge will be a test of his ethical leadership. The UK’s Chartered Management Institute (CMI) argues we face “a crisis of ethics” arising from the ashes of the recession.

Moral development is a lifelong learning process that needs more of our attention, individually and organisationally. How can higher education help develop the ethical leaders of tomorrow? How can managers make decisions with an ethical perspective? What does your moral DNA look like?

Developing ethical leadership

A unique virtual Business Education Jam was held last year harnessing the brainpower of over 5000 stakeholders across the world on the future of business education. One of the outcomes was recognising the importance of ethics in developing tomorrow’s leaders.

Contributors identified a range of ways to foster ethical leadership including:

  • Integrating ethics with curriculum – in-depth study of values, culture and ethical ideas; building an ethical dimension into courses like finance, marketing and operations; a separate course to equip students with ethical frameworks to use as lenses for their subject.
  • Integrating ethics with enterprise – where organisations rigorously examine their practices and processes that shape daily behaviour and in the aggregate create the culture.
  • Developing partnerships – between education and industry so that moral dilemmas faced in practice are brought into the classroom.
  • Acting cross-culturally – understanding and achieving high ethical standards across borders.

Showing ethical leadership

Leadership is sometimes defined by the adage of ‘doing the right thing’, whereas management is more about ‘doing things right’. The reality can be a messy interplay between commitment and compliance, sometimes in tune and sometimes in conflict.

We all face dilemmas that test our moral compass, but doing the right thing isn’t always easy. In business and in life, there often isn’t a straightforward answer. So it can help to know what drives our morality when we have a significant decision to make.

CMI quoteProfessor Roger Steare is an expert in ethics and has developed a free psychometric tool – The profile it creates is designed to help you understand your moral values, how you prefer to make good decisions and ‘do the right thing’. The measure is based on three decision-making preferences: the Law, Logic and Love.

From the order of your preferences, it defines your MoralDNA™ character – Philosopher, Judge, Angel, Teacher, Enforcer or Guardian. It also measures ‘Who you are’ and ‘Who you are at work’, to see if you change in a business context. Finally, it scores you on the ten moral values of Wisdom, Fairness, Courage, Self Control, Trust, Hope, Humility, Care, Honesty and Excellence.

My profile says I am The Philosopher, someone who believes that moral principle or ‘virtue’ is the most important ethical perspective. I ask ‘what would be the honest or most courageous thing to do?’ (Logic). Then I’ll consider the consequences for others (Love). Finally and reluctantly I’ll consider rules, laws and regulations (Law). My preferences do not differ between home and work. Philosophers hate being told what to do or what’s right. They are mavericks and rebels, but good to have around when really difficult decisions have to be made. 28% of managers are Philosophers compared with 17% of the general population.

Managers’ moral DNA

Research in 2014 by Cass Business School and CMI based on the MoralDNA™ database of 130,000 people shows that:

  • Managers are more likely than most to be lacking in empathy.
  • Managers become more robotic and less caring at work.
  • With age comes reason, and with maturity many more mavericks.
  • With seniority comes wisdom, courage to challenge rules, but considerably less humility.
  • Women and men have different ethical preferences (female managers score higher than men on care at work).
  • Religious faith affects ethical decisions (managers with any religious faith reported higher scores across all three ethical preferences, both at work and at home).
  • Political attitudes affect ethical decisions (right wing people reported a higher ethic of obedience and on the ethic of reason at work and at home, but lower than left-wing counterparts on care).

So what?

The implications from the research for individuals are:

  • Care more
  • Stand up for what you believe in
  • Be a values-based leader
  • Be inclusive, open to challenge and dissent
  • Ask yourself the RIGHT questions like: What are the relevant Rules? Are we acting with Integrity? Who is this Good for? Who could it Harm? Would we be happy if the Truth was public (how open, honest and accountable are we being)?

How ethical are behaviours in your organisation? Do you know your moral DNA? How does your moral compass guide you? What aspects of your ethical leadership need developing and how?