Leadership Ethics Training: Why Is It So Hard to Get It Right? the Headlines Are Full of Stories about Unethical Leaders. We Know from Following Those Stories That Unethical Leadership Can Ruin a Company. Why, Then, Are Experienced Chief Learning Officers Having Difficulty Implementing Effective Training in Leadership Ethics?

By Thornton, Linda Fisher | T&D, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Leadership Ethics Training: Why Is It So Hard to Get It Right? the Headlines Are Full of Stories about Unethical Leaders. We Know from Following Those Stories That Unethical Leadership Can Ruin a Company. Why, Then, Are Experienced Chief Learning Officers Having Difficulty Implementing Effective Training in Leadership Ethics?


Thornton, Linda Fisher, T&D


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The national news has featured stories about corporate greed and irresponsibility, and a large percentage of performance improvement professionals are being asked to implement companywide leadership ethics training. The time is right to make ethical leadership a central theme during leadership conversations and in leadership development programs.

The Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics (COLE), in partnership with John Wiley and Sons, conducted its first annual survey of 205 executives of public and private companies. The leadership skills rated most important were

* promoting an ethical environment

* acting with authenticity

* interpreting the competitive environment

* developing trust

* demonstrating optimism and enthusiasm.

The COLE research also reported on time spent on leadership development:

"We found that most senior executives spend less than 25 percent of their time on leadership development. While this is not a surprising finding for CEOs and presidents of companies, we were surprised to learn that many executives also reported that their appointed chief learning officer and head of leader development were not spending more time developing their employees' leadership skills.

"Another intriguing finding was the positive correlation between the amount of time spent on leadership development by the CLO or the head of leader development and the firm' s reported financial performance. Thus, while we wouldn't expect CEOs to devote most of their time to leader development, we would expect CLOs and heads of leader development to do so--especially when spending more time translates into bottom line results."

Leadership ethics is a top concern, and leadership development positively affects the bottom line. Why, then, aren't we helping leaders deal with ethical dilemmas?

Why is it so hard to do?

There are a variety of reasons why CLOs are finding that the leadership ethics problem is not easily solved: The definition of leadership ethics is still unclear; its scope is broadening, making it a moving target; ethics is hard to talk about; and the most useful leadership ethics programs are company-specific.

So, we have an unclear topic that is in flux, on a subject that is itself a gray area. We have a general discomfort talking about the subject, and an off-the-shelf training program isn't going to fix the problem.

The definition of leadership ethics is evolving. So what do leaders need to know? There is disagreement among experts and practitioners about what responsible and ethical leadership even includes. Here we are, as learning professionals, trying to help business leaders who deal with a wide range of stakeholders that compete for their attention--the financial bottom line of the company, employees, consumers of products or services, and the community.

Why is there no formula for resolving ethical issues in a multistakeholder environment? Ethical leadership is difficult to define because

* It lives at the intersection of the fields of leadership, business ethics, decision-making, and corporate social responsibility.

* Thought leaders in the various fields do not agree on a practical definition.

* It takes the discussion of leadership into moral territory.

* How you define it may vary depending on your worldview and leadership values.

* The principles vary depending on the source.

* There are many academic articles on the subject, but there are few practical tools.

* To be implemented in organizations, ethics has to be discussed in the context of effectiveness and results.

The scope of leadership ethics is broadening. Leadership ethics used to be about honesty, integrity, fairness, following rules and laws, and being true to your values. Now, in the global marketplace, with fierce competition for business and resources, the scope of problems that can occur in leadership ethics has expanded exponentially. …

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