Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

The Leader's Role in Creating an Ethical Climate: Rotten Apples or Rotten Barrels?

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

The Leader's Role in Creating an Ethical Climate: Rotten Apples or Rotten Barrels?

Article excerpt

This is the second in a series of articles on the topics and issues that will be presented at the "Leading Innovation and Change in Local Government" Leadership Training Institute seminar scheduled for January 24-26, 2008, at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Most Americans view ethical choices and behavior as being determined mainly by a person's character. The assumption is that if people know what is right, they will do what is right. And conversely, if they don't know what is right or have bad character they are more likely to behave unethically.

This common idea is based on what psychologists call the "fundamental attribution error."

The fundamental attribution error simply means that people tend to explain the behavior of others based on traits or qualities within other people.

In other words, bad behavior, bad apple. Sometimes we do have a rotten apple or two in our work organization.

However, too often we tend to overlook other forces in the organization that can interfere with good character and bring out the worst in those with weak or questionable character.

More often than not, especially when there is a large-scale ethical breakdown, the organization and its leadership have failed to do their part in preventing ethical meltdowns by providing ethically sound strong leadership to establish an ethical climate that minimizes harmful forces and strengthens factors that support ethical behavior. …

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