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10 Examples of Ethical Behavior in Corporate Leadership

10 Examples of Ethical Behavior in Corporate Leadership

In the quest to define and exemplify ethical leadership, we've gathered insights from CEOs and attorneys, among others, offering a diverse perspective on this critical aspect of corporate culture. From embracing ethical flexibility to promoting equality and fair treatment, explore the tenets of ethical behavior through ten distinct lenses provided by seasoned professionals.

  • Embrace Ethical Flexibility for Teams

  • Celebrate Ethical Business Practices

  • Model Work-Life Balance Ethically

  • Create a Culture of Corporate Ethics

  • Draw Early Ethical Lines in Business

  • Engage in Courageous Ethical Conversations

  • Prioritize Integrity and Environmental Sustainability

  • Proactively Address Product Flaws Ethically

  • Live Out Expectations with Integrity

  • Promote Equality and Fair Treatment

Embrace Ethical Flexibility for Teams

Corporate leaders are in the tricky spot of performing their own duties while managing those of their people. I think we can all agree that managing people is much more difficult than if we just put our heads down and did our jobs. Most leaders would do well to remember that ethically managing a team is the primary focus of their job.

Inside my publishing house for six- and seven-figure entrepreneurs, we have a staff of three people and four contractors that we regularly call on. Something I adopted very early on in my career as CEO was that I would treat my team the way I expected to be treated. For example, I allow my staff a lot of flexibility. By remembering that those who work with me are making a choice to give me, my company, and my authors their precious time, I can easily remember that they can also leave. And if I have done my job in choosing the best people (which I have), losing them would be far worse for me. So, I build ethical flexibility into my systems.

Approaching your staff as if they are living, breathing, thinking humans is the pinnacle of ethical leadership.

Celebrate Ethical Business Practices

An example of a corporate leader whose ethical behavior was celebrated is Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. The Body Shop is a cosmetics and skincare company known for its commitment to ethical and environmentally conscious practices. Anita's ethical principles were deeply ingrained in the way she conducted business and shaped the company's identity. Here's how Anita’s ethical behavior was celebrated: 

Social and Environmental Responsibility: Anita was a pioneer in advocating for social and environmental responsibility within the corporate world. She openly promoted causes such as environmental conservation, animal rights, and fair trade. 

Ethical Sourcing: The Body Shop was one of the first companies to actively source and promote products made from natural ingredients that were sustainably harvested and ethically traded. This approach set a precedent for conscious sourcing practices.

Against Animal Testing: One of the most celebrated aspects of The Body Shop's ethical stance was its unwavering commitment to being cruelty-free. The company took a strong stand against animal testing in the cosmetics industry and played a significant role in raising awareness about this issue. 

Transparency: Anita emphasized transparency in business operations. The company openly shared information about its sourcing practices, ingredient origins, and ethical initiatives, setting an example for transparency within the industry. 

Inspiring Others: Anita’s ethical behavior inspired many other businesses to consider their impact on society and the environment. She proved that ethical practices could not only be compatible with business success but also be a driving force behind it.

Legacy: Anita’s legacy continues to influence businesses today. Her commitment to ethical behavior and social responsibility laid the foundation for the broader corporate social responsibility movement, inspiring companies across industries to consider their impact on people, the planet, and profit. Anita’s ethical behavior not only shaped The Body Shop's success but also left a lasting impact on the business world. 

Her approach demonstrated that businesses could be profitable while making a positive difference in the world, and her legacy continues to inspire leaders and entrepreneurs to prioritize ethical values and social impact.

Model Work-Life Balance Ethically

Ethical behavior comes in a lot of different flavors when you're an executive, but my favorite example is actually one that's internal to your organization. You often hear of executives never taking a day off, bragging about it to their organization as an example of the kind of work ethic everyone should have. 

This, in my opinion, is deeply unethical because it puts an unfair amount of pressure on your employees to follow your example or risk recrimination or a stunting of their career opportunities—not to mention a terrible office culture. It is, therefore, my opinion that being an ethical leader means actually doing all of the things that you want your employees to be doing as part of a good work-life balance. 

Sign off at a reasonable time, take your vacation days, take sick leave when you're not well—demonstrating the right behavior for your employees is an extremely important ethical consideration as a people leader.

Create a Culture of Corporate Ethics

Practicing ethical behavior as a corporate leader is a really important way that leaders can get buy-in from the people who work for them and encourage everyone in the organization to follow suit. 

A few ways that leaders can practice ethical behavior are: leading by example. Leaders can set the tone for ethical behavior by consistently demonstrating honesty, integrity, and fairness in their actions and decisions; creating a culture of ethics where they foster an environment that lives and breathes ethics and morals, even if it may not be in the best interest of the company; embracing corporate social responsibility where leaders can demonstrate ethical behavior by prioritizing social and environmental responsibility in their business practices. 

By investing in sustainability initiatives, supporting charitable causes, and giving back to the community, leaders and their organizations are showing a commitment to ethical values and looking forward to a brighter tomorrow.

Draw Early Ethical Lines in Business

The real test of a leader's ethics occurs when money is on the line. As a recruiter, I face this challenge regularly, and it was especially difficult in the early days. Lean times mean turning down work is risky; it's easy to tell yourself you'll shape up when you're more stable. But the opposite is true. Drawing a line in the sand early makes it easier to stick to. 

At Redfish Technology, I turned down a big client just weeks after we'd launched. I can't lie; the revenue loss hurt. But because I'd made the right decision when it was hardest, it only got simpler to do. I never had to grapple with a turnaround in policy, and soon, clients came to know our firm as one with strong values. This reputation enhanced our ability to find solid work.

Rob Reeves, CEO and President, Redfish Technology

Engage in Courageous Ethical Conversations

Practicing ethical behavior as a corporate leader greatly involves the ability to engage in courageous conversations. Ethics is a delicate area, so as a leader, you need to consistently take a firm stand on what is right.

Showing your team that you're open to having tough conversations encourages them to do the same. Creating an environment where difficult discussions are welcomed means that team members are more likely to speak their minds and tackle challenging situations that might otherwise be ignored.

Disagreements are a normal part of work, but I've learned that it's crucial to have these brave conversations. They help sort out differences and move forward, even if it means proceeding without some business partners. When emotions are high, it's challenging to stay open-minded. I recommend approaching these discussions with curiosity, aiming to understand rather than to argue.

Prioritize Integrity and Environmental Sustainability

It means making decisions that prioritize integrity, fairness, and responsibility. It's based on principles of honesty, transparency, and respect for all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the environment. 

For instance, ethical behavior in leadership would be to decide to implement environmentally sustainable practices within the company, even if it means incurring higher initial costs. This means sourcing materials from sustainable suppliers, investing in renewable energy, or reducing waste throughout the company's operations. 

By prioritizing sustainability, it proves that the company values long-term well-being over immediate gains, thereby inspiring trust and respect from both the public and their own team.

Bayu Prihandito, Founder, Psychology Consultant, Life Coach for Men, Life Architekture

Proactively Address Product Flaws Ethically

Practicing ethical behavior as a corporate leader means making decisions that not only comply with laws and regulations but also align with moral principles and the greater good of all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the community. It involves transparency, accountability, and a commitment to fair and respectful treatment of all individuals.

A specific example of this is when a company faces a product flaw that poses potential harm to consumers. An ethical leader would proactively disclose the issue, recall the affected products, and take immediate steps to rectify the situation, despite the financial cost. These leaders prioritize the well-being and trust of consumers over short-term profits.

Live Out Expectations with Integrity

To live out an example of integrity, as a corporate leader, practicing ethical behaviors means living out the same expectations you have for others. It is upholding moral integrity at all costs. It means setting practical examples to guide, inspire, and motivate your team towards improvement. A corporate leader who practices ethical behavior would, in the workplace, be ever conscious to avoid bias of any kind. 

Not only would they be eager to give feedback, but they would equally be willing to receive feedback as constructive. This leader understands that there is always room for personal improvements; hence, they are not offended when their subconscious bias is pointed out. 

For instance, when this leader expects their team to come in for work by 5 a.m., they also show up at 5 a.m. They do not see themselves as superhuman, who are incapable of making mistakes, so they endeavor not to downplay their errors but are instead honest and apologetic for them. They are not afraid to admit they are wrong.

Samantha Miller, Marketing Manager, Express Dentist

Promote Equality and Fair Treatment

Ethical leadership involves holding respect for others and promoting equality within the team and company. Ethical leaders prioritize fair treatment, ensuring that there is no favoritism or discrimination toward any member of the staff. They create an inclusive and supportive environment where everyone feels valued and respected, regardless of their background or position. By upholding these principles, ethical leaders foster a culture of fairness, trust, and collaboration.

An example of ethical leadership is when a leader prioritizes hiring qualified candidates over personal connections, refraining from favoritism or nepotism. By making hiring decisions based on merit rather than personal relationships, this fosters a fair and inclusive work environment that values qualifications and equal opportunities.

Travis Willis, Director of Customer Success, Aspire