Has Corporate Australia lost the war on ethics? | Jackie Crispin Brown
jackie crispin brown

‘As a leader you are judged for the decisions you make every day’
Director, 51 -55

Few leaders get up in the morning and say ‘my purpose in life is to deceive people’ or ‘I’m choosing to act in ways that are absolutely opposite to my values’. And yet, sometimes we do. I doubt people choose values like dishonesty, cheating, ripping off customers, breaking the law, hurting others, doing the wrong thing, or inauthenticity.

Yet if we look through the news in 2018 it’s easy to think that’s case. It’s been rife with the unveiling of unethical decision making in corporate Australia. From Cricket Australia’s ball tampering scandal, to Ford Motors lying to customers about quality issues with vehicles, to AMP for charging a fee for service but delivering no service and then lying to the corporate regulator and ASIC about it. And this is just the start.

So one has to ask has corporate Australia lost the war on ethics or can authentic leadership elevate ethical decision making?

In the examples provided, decisions were taken that (I assume) were not in line with the values these individuals (nor the organisation) would claim to have. Authentic leaders know what they stand for and consistently use their values as a reference point for their decisions. How could these reputable leaders get it so wrong?

Recent research undertaken with 20 top leaders on authentic leadership shows that pressure, both internal and external, can undermine and compromise values.

‘When you’re under immense pressure as I was a couple of years ago, you do tend to compromise your values. The job and the outcomes become the primary focus and you get results at any costs.’ Director, 46-50

It’s unlikely that the outcomes we have heard about happened out of the blue. It’s the end of a path of divergence. At some point, each leader involved stopped making values based decisions.

An initial decision that seems simple and acceptable such as agreeing to increase profit, or to win a game of cricket is hardly to blame. It’s what follows, a series of decisions about execution. Over time that original decision becomes the only thing that matters and it obliterates the bigger picture that included customers, fans, other stakeholders and the leader’s own integrity.

When we loose sight of who we are and what we stand for, of the bigger picture, we become less authentic.We start to make decisions based on other criteria such as fear, our personal needs, and ego. When these things drive our decisions, they are likely to be poor decisions.

Research into the development of authentic leaders found that authentic leaders considered those things most likely to derail them were internal, such as: Fear, lacking self awareness, wanting to be accepted, ego, getting too attached to the outcome, not enough time for self and reflection, lack of courage, inability to be honest with self, poor emotional management, pleasing others and /or competing goals.

Decision making is fundamental to leadership. Remembering what we stand for, connecting to the bigger picture and testing our decisions against our values is core to flourishing as an authentic leader. Authentic leaders make decisions with greater integrity and consistency. It seems that this is desperately needed in 2018.

To sustainably develop authentic leadership, three things are needed:

  1. The individual needs development;
  2. The culture needs to enable authentic leadership; and
  3. An ongoing plan to maintain authentic leadership should be in place.

Download our latest research on authentic leadership:

When Fake is so Fashionable, can we really grow Authentic Leaders?


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