The most enjoyable workplaces are often those that have built a culture around trust, respect, and fairness. This stems from ethical leadership – a style of leadership that is defined as demonstrating appropriate and thoughtful conduct in personal actions and interpersonal relationships, respecting ethical beliefs and values, and being motivated by the dignity and rights of others.
As Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) become increasingly important in organizations today, embracing ethical leadership will be the foundation of it all – driving leaders to set a positive example for employees and foster work environments that have a strong sense of community and human-centricity.
Understanding the Foundational Elements of Ethical Leadership
Ethical leaders ground themselves in moral principles that favor right over wrong, fairness over inequity, and integrity over deceit. Understanding the foundational elements of ethical leadership – as outlined by Forbes and industry professionals –enables business leaders and HR teams to develop and prioritize these traits within their organizations.
- Fairness: Ethical leaders are committed to DEIB initiatives and strive to ensure all employees are treated equally and fairly, regardless of race, gender, religion, or socio-economic status.
- Trust and Communication: Ethical leaders prioritize fostering a culture of trust and open communication with and between employees. They encourage transparency and openness to build stronger relationships.
- Respect: Ethical leaders are mindful of all stakeholders, ensuring those around them are heard and respected. They value the voices of others and demonstrate respect in every interaction.
- Humanity: Ethical leaders prioritize people over profits to ensure everyone is treated fairly. They prioritize employee well-being and show genuine care and interest to those they lead.
- Integrity: Ethical leaders show true integrity by being honest, transparent, reliable, and authentic. They consider the needs of all stakeholders involved and demonstrate transparency and accountability in every decision they make.
An ethical leader leads by example, demonstrating honesty, fairness, and compassion in all interactions. – Martin Luther King Jr.
Why is Ethical Leadership so Important for Organizations Today?
Ethical leadership is valued for its positive impact on organizational success, employee engagement, well-being, and social responsibility. With a focus on integrity, fairness, and accountability in the workplace, ethical leaders are known to create a culture of trust, transparency, and ethical decision-making within organizations.
Encouraging and cultivating ethical leaders has significant benefits, including:
- A positive workplace culture: Ethical leaders inspire and motivate others to follow good ethical behavior. As leaders set a positive example, others within the organization will follow, acting with integrity and openness.
- Increased sense of belonging: When company values are grounded in ethics, and are aligned with employee values, employees feel more connected to the organization’s mission and values. According to HBR, high belonging is linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days.
- Improved brand image: Maintaining moral and ethical principles throughout the organization can dramatically improve its brand image. This makes organizations more appealing to work for, to do business with, and to buy from.
- Better morale: A strong emphasis on values and ethics fosters a positive work environment where employees feel respected and motivated to do their best.
- Better retention: Ethical leaders create a human-centric culture that prioritizes trust, fairness, and community. Employees thrive in these environments as they feel more supported and valued, leading to lower turnover, higher productivity, and loyalty.
How to Adopt Ethical Leadership Strategies
We’ve rounded up the most effective ways to adopt ethical leadership:
Encourage leaders to build strong relationships
According to Forbes, when leaders have strong and genuine relationships with their team members, they are more likely to have more honest and open communication. Regular catch-ups and meaningful conversations creates an environment where employees are comfortable voicing their opinions, concerns, and career goals, thus enabling leaders to better support their people.
Create a culture of continuous improvement
Ethical leaders are constantly striving to improve and refine strategies to ensure efficiency and productivity for their teams and the business as a whole. This sentiment should be encouraged to the wider business through periodic reviews and evaluations of processes and strategies. This cultivates a culture where employees are always willing to improve and find better ways to operate.
Be willing to evolve and adapt to change
Ethical leaders are ready to evolve and adapt to changes within the workplace and the market. They help make transitions go much smoother by listening to their employees, addressing concerns, and making decisions that balance both employee and organizational needs.
Include Soft Skills & DEIB Skills and Capabilities
According to research by Fuel50, considering DEIB capabilities and specialist skills can help promote a great employee experience. Incorporating these skills can go a long way in fostering a culture where people feel a sense of belonging, want to be affiliated with the organization, and actively contribute to the organization’s performance. Below are some examples:
- D&I Strategy and Policy
- Diversity Recruiting
- Knowledge of Discrimination and Privilege
- Social Inclusion Initiatives
- Attitudinal Awareness
- Cultural Competence
- Inclusive Leadership
- Team Well-being
- Valuing Diversity
- Critical Thinking
- Interpersonal communication
- Conflict resolution
- Emotional intelligence
Ethical Leadership is Thinking about the Greater Good
True ethical leadership is all about the greater good. Adopting this type of leadership requires mindful consideration of the people affected by your actions. While it may seem like an incredible balancing act, the best leaders manage to do it by asking themselves – how do my actions and decisions affect employees, the organization, and the communities I serve?
Organizations that cultivate ethical leaders are ones that experience stronger relationships, higher employee satisfaction, boosted productivity, and overall, a healthier and happier work environment.