Leaders Seeking Wisdom Need An Ethical Dimension

by Roger Trapp, Forbes

Many people would perhaps not be surprised to learn that nearly three-quarters of business leaders had felt the need to take a professional decision that was at odds with their own ethical principles because of business pressures. What is more surprising is that fewer than half of leaders could easily describe their personal mission or "true north".

Leave aside the issue of how individuals could realize they were in conflict with their own principles while making business decisions when they did not have a clear idea of their own moral standpoint. For Amrop, the executive search firm that produced the survey from which these findings are taken, this disconnect between leaders and their own mission is a potential barrier holding executives back from walking the walk even if they talk the talk. Jose Leyun, chief executive of Amrop, says: "The findings show there are weaknesses in leaders' moral compasses. The moral guiding light is in sight, but often lost in the clouds."

As Leyun explained in an interview this week ahead of the publication of the report Wise Decision-Making: Stepping Up to Sustainable Business Performance, this is more than a philosophical debate. It goes to the heart of what he and his colleagues refer to as "wise leadership". In particular, they see the lack of an ethical dimension as a potential threat to sustainable business success. Given that talking about sustainability is second nature to just about every executive these days, this is not something to be taken lightly.

Of course, one of the reasons that leaders talk about sustainability is that they are expected to. A new generation of customers and employees takes sustainability seriously and is concerned about business's role in society. So it is natural that leaders should want to demonstrate their commitment to the issue. The problem is that that commitment is not always as strong as customers and employees imagine or would like it to be. Given that, in the wake of the financial crisis of a decade ago, trust in business remains shaky, this is not a good situation.

Other findings of the survey, which involved Amrop, one of the largest executive search firms by geographical reach, in interviewing more than 300 CEOs and C-suite executives around the world, include the contradiction between leaders' stated motivations and their actual career drivers. Most corporate leaders said they were more motivated by "virtue" than "value", or "servant" rather than "sovereign" leadership, 63% — when presented with five hypothetical scenarios — preferred a job description that fitted a "need for power".

Similarly, 44% of respondents accepted that insights from the past could be an important source of knowledge and 30% of them agreed that reviewing their past helped give them a perspective on current professional concerns. But only a tenth strongly agreed that they dedicated themselves to reflecting on past events or recalled the past to see if thy had changed.

Also worrying to Leyun and his team were the findings that leaders demonstrated high self-confidence yet only a few paused to assess all the risks before making difficult decisions and only a few sought feedback on their attitudes and behavior and took it into account when making future decisions.

More encouraging was the finding that — against many expectations — leaders were more driven by the good of the organization than by their own self-interest. Moreover, 86% of those surveyed said they aimed to fulfil the organisation's objectives even when it was not to their own benefit.

Leyun also sees clear signs that leaders are starting to develop emotional intelligence as part of a trend towards bringing fresher competencies to the management field. This emphasis on competencies rather than specific expertise (except in certain circumstances) is also contributing to a shift towards executives moving between sectors, as demonstrated by Carolyn McCall, who has been named chief executive of the television company ITV after stints at the head of the Guardian Media Group and, more recently, the low-cost airline easyJet. "Our customers expect us to find the best possible talent to fix their problems, regardless of the sector [they have worked in before]," he said. "Competencies are more important than expertise. What really matters is attitude."

If business really is going to rise to the challenge of fulfilling an important role in society beyond providing jobs and paying taxes, then its leaders need to — as Leyun points out — move beyond the stereotype and display the attributes that can really make an impact.

Read the article: Trapp, R. (2018, January 31). Leaders seeking wisdom need an ethical dimension. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogertrapp/2018/01/31/leaders-seeking-wisdom-need-an-ethical-dimension/#1d3ee6f9d3b8



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