When I started to focus on the morality of business and leadership in my research, I surveyed some past clients for their definition of moral awareness. One of the most striking definitions I received was the following:
“Moral awareness is when one is in touch with one’s innate sense of morality and can feel the moral component of events. Someone who does not have moral awareness does not notice the moral cues provided to him by his psyche ……”
Our business culture tends to shy away from using the word “moral” because it usually implies some sense of spirituality or religion, which may not fit succinctly in the business world. However, recent events that have led our entire economy down a dangerous path, have forced many to dive deeper into what exactly is the problem.
The problem is this: you cannot mandate or enforce an innate sense of morality. However, we can create a corporate culture where acting in the most moral and ethical way, is the norm. Morally aware people will be attracted to these types of ‘high-road’ companies. The morally unaware will be the minority.
How do we do this? There are universal moral obligations that need to be enacted upon in order to produce and maintain a culture of trust.
1. Put people first in decision making:
• Every decision that is made affects people, the time to discern those affects is in the process of making the decision, not after the decision is made.
2. Respect for individual human dignity:
• Always separate personhood from behavior. You have the right to disagree with one’s behavior, but no one has the right to attack one’s self esteem!
3. Treat all fairly:
• Everyone from the CEO down to the newly hired must “play” by the same rules, the same code of conduct, mission statement, values statement, code of ethics. Exceptions cannot be made if a true environment of trust is to be the norm.
4. Be honest:
• Always tell the truth. If you tell one lie, then you’ll tell another one and pretty soon you forgot what you lied about and it goes on and on and on. If you expect your people to tell you the truth and they have the right to expect of you!
• People will never accept change unless they trust the ones who created it. Honesty is the foundation of trust.
These four moral obligations need to be the cornerstone of leadership development. But, the onus is clearly on the leadership and the acute moral awareness of each leader to fully understand their impact and example by behavior, not by dictate.
The key is that leadership needs to have an innate sense of right and wrong for moral awareness to take hold. These four obligations become the guideposts for all to embrace.