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Hang a question mark now and then

INTRODUCTION “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” The words of philosopher Bertrand Russell echo those of management guru Tom Peters: “If you have gone a whole week without being disobedient, you are doing yourself and your organization […]

INTRODUCTION

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

The words of philosopher Bertrand Russell echo those of management guru Tom Peters: “If you have gone a whole week without being disobedient, you are doing yourself and your organization a disservice.”  These words apply with special meaning to leaders who influence inside and outside the immediate sphere of their organization.

Hang some question marks, dare to be “disobedient” by challenging the established order of things. This may mean revisiting your mission, values, and/or vision statements to see if they still serve in our fast-paced, crisis-around-the-corner world. Questioning and challenging may come in the form of benchmarking–i.e., discovering what other leaders are doing to ensure a values-driven culture within their organizations. And these leadership actions–questioning the status quo and breaking old rules/making new ones to replace them –may mean engaging your staff in activities that develop new skills/new insights.

ETHICAL LEADERSHIP

There’s a need for ethical leadership in these times of “institutional betrayal”: when those dedicated to leading companies are charged with using corporate funds for their own personal “needs”; when those committed to exemplifying ethical behavior are charged with molesting children; when those sworn to protect a citizenry are charged with police brutality; when those elected to serve the people are charged with perjury or accused of exaggerating a danger; when those living in the swamp are not removed but instead are just getting richer.

We live in cynical times. It’s easy for the average citizen to wonder why his/her behavior should be ethical when those who lead us engage in unethical behavior. That’s why you, as an effective leader, must provide some ethical insight in addition to all the other duties that lie before you. Engage in conversation that will lead to such insights; ask questions that will effect re-consideration of practices and protocols that may be outdated. Get people thinking about ethical behavior and the consequences of unethical actions that violate the spirit and the letter of the laws that govern us. Demonstrate moral courage.

CONCLUSION

To be sure, there is nothing you can do to transform an unethical person into an ethical one. But….your questions will ideally stimulate discussion. From discussion comes awareness.You cannot teach someone to be ethical but you can make that person aware of the consequences of unethical behavior. In doing so, you are establishing clear ethical boundaries in the corporate culture.

Additionally, the discussions may enhance the leadership potential in your organization, or foster ideas for better corporate citizenship, or increase sales, or engender better management practices or improve teamwork. When you and your colleagues engage in discussions that border on disobedience, you will be probing, pushing, prodding–in short, you’ll work to remove the calcified plaque that may have accumulated over time on the metaphorical teeth of your firm.

The ancient Greeks told us that the unexamined life is not worth living. By extension, the unexamined business is not worth leading or being part of. Even if you believe that 100% of your colleagues behave ethically 100% of the time, it’s worth the effort to examine that belief. To illustrate, quality guru Philip Crosby maintains that in most organizations, the people who lead the organization believe everyone understands what is meant by the word “quality.” And yet, if you asked 100 different people, you’d come up with 100 different definitions.

Author and retired CEO Max DePree asserts that it’s the leader’s job to define reality. We hope the questions and the discussions that ensue that will assist you in that definition.

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