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Getting your ethics in shape to lead

2 min read

I am struck by how little we generally think about ethics. In a world that has arguably lost its moral compass, I hope this will change. When we see the Trumps, Clintons and Hanson’s of our time effectively rewarded, despite advocating offensive positions and engaging in questionable, even illegal activities in their pursuit of power, one senses that it is time for a stronger stand to be made.

Unpacking ethics

Ethics refers to the set of moral values and principles that guide our actions and enable us to distinguish between right and wrong. The act of reflecting and developing congruence across our values, emotions, thoughts, and actions is critical if we are to lead effectively.

In our post-truth, the low-trust world of Royal Commissions and ‘fake news’, I believe the rise of ethical leaders will become a significant factor in what will make organisations succeed (or not!). Younger workers, in particular, are motivated to seek out businesses that reflect their values.

As my friend, anthropologist Michael Hendersen writes, this generation is looking for “Leaders worth following, Work worth doing and Cultures worth belonging to”. This may be the dynamic that forces us all to pay more attention and ‘walk’ the ethics ‘talk’.

It’s useful to dig deeper into this area. Ethics is one of the four pillars of the Performance Competency in the i4 Neuroleader model, developed by Silvia Damiano of the About My Brain Institute.

Ethics consists of three elements:






Values seem straight forward. But it’s telling how we can find our core beliefs challenged and distorted as leaders. This is most obvious on the public stage, where we see politicians contort and reverse their positions to please their audience.

Similarly, there are notorious failures such as Enron, where values such as honesty and integrity were jettisoned in the pursuit of profit. Neuroscience studies suggest that the effect of greed on the brain is similar to that of drugs like cocaine. This may explain why already wealthy and successful people drive for increasingly obscene rewards at any cost.

Whilst it is easy to point at others, it’s also instructive to ask of ourselves, “Am I living my values?” Incongruence with our values will, sooner or later, derail all of us. As Mahatma Gandi observed,

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, 

Your thoughts become your words, 

Your words become your actions, 

Your actions become your habits, 

Your habits become your values, 

Your values become your destiny.”