Q: What are the best practices of ethical business leaders?
A: The development of values and skills essential to ethical business leadership requires recognition that business is an institution with significant responsibility to improve social welfare with considerations of humanity, trust and fairness.
First, remember that profits are not the purpose of business. The purpose of business is to enable a collective effort to provide goods or services that meet consumers’ needs and improve society. Profits are the result of a successful business, not the purpose. The understanding that business is a human endeavor, not just an efficiency process, is highly important. An ethical business leader must think about business and its stakeholders as a cooperative institution that is crucial to the health of society.
Second, consider multiple perspectives. Ethical dilemmas typically involve emotional or controversial issues that cause a tendency to rush to judgment. Possessing strong values and good moral intuition is excellent, but it’s always better to pause, think through the situation and consider reasons for making a certain choice.
Leaders need to examine the facts before deciding and “slow their roll” before a snap judgment. Considering multiple perspectives can be beneficial. Considering potential harm, fairness and responsibility toward others makes an ethical judgment much stronger. The decision’s focus becomes human ramifications, not the stock excuse: “It’s just business.”
Finally, have courage and build trust. Sticking to a decision and facing its consequences on ethical issues is difficult. Short-term economic consequences are often negative when we ethically decide about the welfare of humans. Rejecting unethical practices may cause personal backlash. Standing up for an unpopular business decision because it’s right from an ethical standpoint demands courage.
Upholding ethics builds respect and trust with fellow community members. Respect and trust from employees and customers speak volumes about the character and capability of an ethical leader.
Learn more best practices at berc.centerforethicsinpractice.org.
Dawn Elm is the executive director of the Center for Ethics in Practice at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.