So this early Friday morning has me thinking about why it might be that those in leadership roles, who believe they are doing the right thing, might actually not be doing the right thing. I'm not thinking about the Enrons or Lehman Brothers of the world..I am thinking about those organizations which are doing their day to day work, making day to day decisions, and doing things in a manner that most of us would consider ethical. But is it always that easy? I would posit that many of us in leadership roles believe we are doing the right thing and, that in fact, we may not be doing the right thing. Why might that be? Here are a few thoughts:
- leaders are often isolated: it is easy to be isolated and make decisions in that isolation, whether it be others not telling leaders what they need to know or leaders not creating the culture where others can tell them what they need to know.
- leaders put the organization first: yes, it is all about people...and at the end of the day the organization needs to (and most often should) survive into the future. Deciding between the future of the organization and the future of some people in the organization is fraught with the possibility of not doing (or maybe doing) the right thing
- leaders love the phrase "for the common good": of course those in leadership roles should act for the common good and, in most cases, that would be the ethical thing to do...and it could lead to behavior that harms and impacts others.
- leaders work hard to protect the illusion of being the leader...most people expect the leader to know everything about everything (and many leaders believe the same about themselves). Protecting this image can lead to decision making that might cause great harm to others.
- leaders feel the need to be right: this is closely related to the above concept, where the reason people are moved into leadership roles is because they have been very good at decision making in the past and, for the most part, were always right in those decisions. Having to always be right can lead to very bad decision making.
- leaders have learned how to spin a good story: it is important for those in leadership roles to put the organization's best foot forward, hoping that everyone will see the possibilities that exist for future growth. People believe that if they do the right thing, good things will happen more often than not...and if they don't, leaders might then turn around and not do the right thing to get the story they want (and might need).
Perhaps this is not as much an issue of right and wrong as it is an issue of leaders having the inner fortitude to wrestle with their decision making...and their angels and demons. Leadership is about making decisions which have an impact on people, organizations, and on the common good. Many of those decisions are not the easy ones (that's why they end up in the leader's office). And perhaps this is also an issue of facing the consequences of one's decisions...and doing so in a manner that upholds the dignity of those involved, as well as the dignity of the leader (and the dignity of the organization). Not an easy topic to consider for leaders...especially on an early Friday morning.