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8 Steps to Effective Ethical Leadership

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

“Ethics and oversight are what you eliminate when you want absolute power.” 
― DaShanne Stokes

1) The most important thing you can do as an ethical leader is to clean up your act—if there is anything moral or honest in your life that would not stand up to scrutiny if the entire world found out—you must cut it at once. Do not give anyone an occasion to think that you are a hypocrite.

2) Be sure that every decision you make is honest and ethical. You cannot effectively lead ethically when your choices and actions are not open, fair, and honest.

3) As an ethical leader, I commit to telling the truth no matter what. As a moral leader, when you lie or tell half-truths, people tend to feel that your entire self is a sham. If you are habitually lying and telling half-truths, you may be.

4) Learn everything you can about the tasks, even working in the trenches for a while. No one likes to be led by someone who has never done what they are doing. This does not mean you have to become an expert; take part in the menial work long enough to understand the frustrating aspects of the work. Another benefit is that when you have done the job, you can more effectively brainstorm solutions to challenges when they arise.

5) Lead by example. Do you expect your employees or secretaries to arrive on time for work and dress well? Then it would help if you did the same. Sometimes it is easy to think that you have earned the right to come in whenever you feel like it or to return from lunch whenever you wish. You may have done the right, but you gain far more by setting the example for performance. Do you expect others to work overtime when a project is behind projections? Then you must be willing to do the same.

6) Although you may feel you have earned the right to delegate away all the work, continue to be involved in productive tasks. By doing some of the results, not only do you gain the respect of your employees, but also you stay connected with the flow of things. As a leader, it is easy to disengage from the actual productive segment of your business and resultantly make decisions that look good on paper and sound good around the boardroom table but are worthless when the rubber hits the road.

7) Constantly reevaluate your performance. Often, you may spend so much time correcting the actions of others and solving crises you did not create that you develop a sense that others are not as capable as you. Consequently, you may not recognize when you fall into unhealthy habits that must be corrected. Be the first to find and fix your short fallings.

8) Avoid pride. Once in a position of leadership, especially if you are good at what you do, it is easy to begin to feel that you are invincible. Once that occurs, you become vulnerable to pride and may make decisions you would frown on if your subordinates made the same decisions. Maintain full responsibility for your actions and always keep them honest.

Bonus Step:

9) Learn to manage your time. When you are in a position of leadership and find yourself delegating away most of the time-consuming tasks, it is easy to lose control of your time. Again, employees tend to do the same when they see you wasting your time.

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