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Ethical Leadership: 11 Ways To Stay Out Of Hot Water

The world has gotten so competitive these days that it seems some people will do whatever it takes to be the best. That means ethics are often pushed to the wayside. But this can land a company and its leadership in hot water. When a company or its leaders don’t adhere to a moral code, then unethical actions are almost inevitable.

To better understand what it takes to make sure an organization’s moral compass is always pointing in the right direction, we asked members of Forbes Coaches Council for insight on what executives and their companies can do to stay on track and correct a wayward course of action.

Members of Forbes Coaches Council share their insight.

Members of Forbes Coaches Council share their insight.


1. Perform Simple Tests

I had the pleasure of working at a company whose CEO’s mantra was “Do the right thing, even when no one is looking.” He also talked about two simple tests to gauge whether what you were about to do constituted the right thing: (1) How would you feel if what you did was printed on the front page of your hometown newspaper and your mom read it? and (2) If it related to an employee, how would you feel if your adult child came home and told you how s/he was treated at work? These are pretty good yardsticks I still apply today! – Kathy BernhardKFB Leadership Solutions

2. Focus On Your Daily Decisions

It takes many years of training to make it to the Olympics. The athletes who try to shortcut the process never make it. If your goals are your numbers for this month, it’s hard to think long term and easier to be tempted to take shortcuts. Focus on two to five goals and your day-to-day decisions will be your long-term goals. Solid, ethical decisions will help you win your professional Olympics. – Ruben GonzalezOlympian Motivation

3. Let Your Impact Be Your Guide

To keep your eye on the ethical ball, it is essential that you define the impact you want to make first. This is most effective in a company where the desired impact — on employees, stakeholders, customers, etc. — is clearly stated and referenced consistently and emphatically. Every time you start something, ask yourself, “Will this have the desired impact in alignment with our company values?” – Kathleen Taylor-GadsbyKTG Leadership Solutions

4. Try The Sleep Test

How well are you sleeping at night? If you are losing sleep over some of the decisions you are making, you might not be living out your values. Your body and emotions know when you are doing something wrong. Follow the impulses that are guiding you and you will stay on the right, ethical path. – Monica ThakrarMTI

5. Define Impact In Your Own Lens

Important ethics topics come in cultural waves: sustainability, transparency, diversity, inclusion, equal rights. It’s good because it brings awareness, but bad because it’s easy to get lost in the noise of what everyone else is saying. Leaders need to stop to ask their team what the topic means to them and for them. Solutions will be more impactful and the organization will feel more ownership over them. – Andrew HagermanThe Design Gym

6. Build In Safeguards

Integrity is a key quality for leaders, and it is possible to hire people for whom moral identity and ethics are important. That being said, good people do bad things sometimes, as we are all vulnerable to rationalizing our own behaviors. Remember that 90% of us believe we are above average drivers! So we need transparency, openness and a willingness to be asked the hard questions from our team. – Christine Allen, Ph.D.Insight Business Works

7. Express Your Morals

Your morals are innate and intuitive. Thinking either of those happens passively is a huge mistake. Things become second nature only through habit. Ask yourself how you are habitually expressing your morals or values. How consistent are you in stating what they are? When’s the last time you wrote them down? If you’re not specific/intentional, then you’re not following your compass. – Derrick BassClarity Provoked

8. Be Transparent And Aware

As much as feasibly possible, let people know what you are working on, with who and why. Remember, we are human “beings” first and human “doings” second. It’s easy for CEOs to succumb to the pressures of staying relevant, even break rules, due to the cutthroat nature of today’s globally competitive environment.  We are usually “behaving” best when we know someone is watching. – Rubi HoThe Rubi Ho Group

9. Remember Why You Started

As your company grows, so does your responsibility. It can become easy to be bogged down with the procedures, protocols and the bottom line. What helps me is to stay focused on the customer, to remember I started this company to help people, and to put the human beings who purchase from me above everything else. – Amanda FrancesAmanda Frances Inc

10. Do The Right Thing

Generally speaking, I believe people have an inner sense of what is right and what is wrong. Tapping into that inner knowing and having the courage to stand for what is right is the real test. We can be both ethical and profitable. In situations where we lose sight of our moral compass, the only question to ask is: “Am I doing the right thing?” and if the answer is no, then find another way. – Michela QuiliciMQ Consulting and Business Training, Inc.

11. Remember Your Character

Character seems an old-fashioned word, yet character is such an important element of leadership that is essential in today’s world. All of us have character, but the key is the depth of development of each facet of character that enables us to bring the best of ourselves, to lead impacting the engagement and performance of followers and to contribute to the society in which we operate. – Maria PastoreMaria Pastore Coaching

About Michela Quilici

International Business Growth Coach, Award-winning Marketing Strategist, Best-Selling Author, Speaker and Forbes Coaches Council. Known as a Business Navigator, Michela works with growth-minded business owners, service professionals and CEOs who want to ignite their businesses and accelerate growth, while building a business aligned to who they are.

She is passionate about creating roadmaps that ignite leaders to take inspired action to navigate their growth on purpose using strategy, systems and self-leadership, so they can get noticed, get clients and get profitable.