On the evening of Thursday 7th March 2013 I had the privilege of being on the panel of a Tomorrow’s Company event in London where Professor Ted Roosevelt Malloch was the main speaker on the subject of ‘Business Ethics: From Crisis to Reform’ promoting his new book “The End of Ethics – and a way back”
Other members of the panel were:
James Featherby, Chairman, Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group
Richard Sermon MBE, Chairman, City Values Forum
Tony Manwaring, Chief Executive, Tomorrow’s Company (chair)
While the focus of the lecture was more on the “end” than “the way back”, one of Prof. Malloch’s claims is that ethics in business and finance are at their lowest ebb …. ever. I am not sure I agree! One of the main reasons I left the corporate world in the ’80s when a main board director of a FTSE 100 company was because of the questionable ethics in the dealings between banks, auditors and commercial businesses. I think it has always been there.
I believe the reason we are going through the current ethical turmoil is because today it is much more difficult to keep things hidden long term, and that is fundamentally because of the rapid availability of unprecedented amounts of information. Thank you Internet! Today there are just too many ways to leak from the closed shop, the old boys network and more obscure clubs. So for the first time for centuries at least, poor ethics is getting really exposed.
Leaders basically have two options going forward: Find new clever ways to hide damaging secret information OR be transparent. The second option is far easier but only if leaders can move beyond their ego and their focus on personal gain.
This means that for the long term benefit of society we have to do something proactive about making sure we choose leaders that can and do think beyond there ego (we call that “Transpersonal Leadership”) –
to read more on the subject.
Our brains have a stone-age default that encourages us to follow strong, powerful, tough, leaders that perform. That often means they are selfish and ego-driven. As a result their main goal is to get to the top and stay there rather than take care of the stakeholders of their organisation. Yet because of our herd instinct we follow them and put up with poor behaviours and values and don’t complain until a major event disposes them – then we all complain how bad they were!
Who is guilty?
As individuals in our modern society most of us, when we reflect and consider rather than react to instinct, still want and value leaders who are performance driven but we also want leaders who are empathetic, humble, transparent, caring, engaging, empowering and whose goal is to take care of the interests of all the stakeholders – before themselves.
Our current processes of selection and development of leaders, and our natural deferment to those who are either very political and very strong, or both – means we get the leaders that maybe we deserve.
To address this we need to fundamentally change how we select and then develop our leaders of the future. We need to insist on the right behaviours and actual demonstration of the right values before individuals are even considered for promotion and responsibility. Rather than a shortage of talent, this would create a much broader base for developing future leaders, eliminate the unsuitable candidates and probably finish up with leaders who would be more competent for our time – as well as being content with a reasonable remuneration. The result would be a much more diverse range of leaders, including more women and other currently disadvantaged groups.
There are ways to select and assess leaders (see note below) on a different basis and there are ways to develop the right behaviours and attributes to enable the right leaders to achieve their potential competence.
We just need to do it.
Note: The faculties of LeaderShape and The University of Chester (experts in Work-based Learning) have joined forces to write a new book “Leadership Assessment for Talent Development”, to be published by Kogan Page in September 2013.