The recent resignations of Martin Winterkorn as CEO of VW and Marcel Aubut as president of the Canadian Olympic Committee highlight the continuing need for leaders to lead by example.
I learned this as an officer in the Canadian military, through minor incidents involving me and major ones involving others. Unethical conduct always catches up to you, no matter what it is. What’s more, the leader sets the ethical tone of the entire organization. I call this “giving moral license.” If the top boss and, by extension, the other leaders within the “chain of command” give ethically ambiguous direction or a downright bad example, this gives a license to everyone else to act in the same ethically questionable or ambiguous manner. As I wrote in Brilliant Manoeuvres:
“The leader sets the tone for the entire organization by how he or she thinks, acts, speaks, and decides. If the leader is weak and indecisive, the whole organization will often be of the same complexion. If the leader acts ethically and with integrity, then this attitude will tend to permeate the organization. The leader gives a licence to his or her followers to think and perform in a certain way; so all actions and words must be assessed for their impact on followers, superiors, peers, and those the organization is meant to serve. In the final analysis, the leader must be worthy of the loyalty, confidence, and respect of followers, because they will mimic the leader’s performance.”
If you think that’s hard and demanding, then you’re right. But that’s what it means to be a leader!
I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!
Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.
© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.