Moral Leadership

MMPI conducts extensive staff training throughout the year on a variety of topics – one of which is Ethics & Business Behaviours. We have achieved industry-wide recognition and formal accreditation for this important subject matter. When we developed the programme several years ago we introduced the term “psychopathic tendencies” to describe unethical behaviour. Many had visions of a psychopath as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. But not all psychopathic tendencies are as extreme as that.

Human behaviour extends across a spectrum of extremes. On the left-hand-side are those who have little regard for others (psychopaths) and on the right-hand-side those who have no regard for themselves. Both conditions at the margins are dangerous and require medical intervention. Thankfully most people occupy the middle ground of behaviours – with a balanced leaning to left or right.

Recent research suggests that psychopathic-type behaviour is much more predominant in the business world than in the wider population. Given the hierarchical nature of company structures it follows that this behaviour comes from the top. As most business leaders in traditional industries are male accountants there is an unwelcome fixation on achieving monetary targets and other numerical measures. Therefore, the resultant behaviour of peers and subordinates moves inexorably to the left. The further left they go the more unethical they behave.

Goals and targets that are set by ultra-left-of-centre leaders are fundamentally flawed. They will display blind spots where uncomfortable truths are ignored. Achieving the numerical targets becomes much more rewarding; who cares how they were achieved. In this space, leaders will convince themselves (and others) that unethical behaviour is acceptable – the lies and deceits are part of normal business conduct – everybody does it!

Research consistently demonstrates that unethical behaviour does not reap rewards in the long term. It all ends in recriminations and company ruin. Honesty, decency, integrity and politeness appear to be out-of-fashion in the modern business world and that is unfortunate.

Instead of beating figures into submission business leaders should concentrate on leading with moral values to the fore. Often seen as weak characteristics, ethical traits have a proven track record as winning inputs to a successful business.

Labour mobility in the modern world means that employees are far less tolerant of unethical behaviour. Whistleblowing legislation also means that wrongdoing will be exposed and punished. Progressive companies have spent significant resources on inclusiveness and team-bonding in an effort to convince all (male accountants? – Ed) that ethical values, authenticity and emotional intelligence are worthy pursuits. We cannot say for sure that all business scandals are a consequence of unethical behaviour but we do know that the public’s reaction to failures in the business world would be much more forgiving if moral leadership was in evidence.

Important Disclaimer: Left/right references, herein, should not be construed in any way as referring to politics; football; photography; handedness; religion or uniformed personnel. Other references, herein, are not intended to represent MMPI’s opinion of accountants or males or both. Here come the girls!

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