195 Global Leaders Rate “Strong Ethics” as the #1 Competency Of A Leader

There is growing evidence of the effectiveness of ethical leadership across all levels -individual, groups and organization.

Sunny Giles, an organizational scientist, executive coach, and leadership development consultant conducted a research focused on identifying 10 leadership competencies, every leader must possess.

The first round of the study had 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations. Participants were asked to choose the 15 most important leadership competencies from a list of 74. He grouped the top ones into five major themes that suggest a set of priorities for leaders and leadership development programs. See the chart below.

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The highest theme “Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety” combines two of the three most highly rated attributes: “high ethical and moral standards” (67% selected it as one of the most important) and “communicating clear expectations” (56%).

Taken together, these attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment.

According to Giles in an article published in Harvard Business Review, a leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence that both they and their employees will honor the rules of the game. Similarly, when leaders clearly communicate their expectations, they avoid blindsiding people and ensure that everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment employees can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.

Neuroscience corroborates this point. When the amygdala registers a threat to our safety, arteries harden and thicken to handle an increased blood flow to our limbs in preparation for a fight-or-flight response. In this state, we lose access to the social engagement system of the limbic brain and the executive function of the prefrontal cortex, inhibiting creativity and the drive for excellence. From a neuroscience perspective, making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.

But how? This competency is all about behaving in a way that is consistent with your values. Giles suggests that when leaders find themselves making decisions that feel at odds with their principles or justifying actions in spite of a nagging sense of discomfort, they probably need to reconnect with their core values. Often he facilitates an exercise “Deep Fast Forwarding” which helps people to envision their funeral and what people would say about them in a eulogy. The exercise gives a clearer sense of what’s important which invariably guides them in their daily decision making.

Following the social learning perspective (Bandura, 1986), ethical leadership is able to emerge and be maintained more easily in societies which have a strong spirit of human rights and in which political leaders authentically demon- strate the adherence to ethical principles by conveying the importance of human dignity, freedom of speech and associ- ation, and truly caring about the welfare of their citizens. In such societies, organizational leaders and employees are more likely to regard ethical behavior as an indispensable element of leadership, and employees are likely to attach sub- stantial importance to or even demand that their supervisors engage in ethical leadership behaviors and treat them in a fair and respectful manner. Followers may also be more likely to positively receive and react to ethical leadership behavior – either via direct nonverbal signals or verbal feedback, the effective fulfillment of task assignments, or higher levels of work motivation and engagement – and thus reinforce its enactment (Bandura, 1977, 1986).

What are your thoughts? Post your comments, questions and suggestions below.

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