Friday, 13 November 2015

Avoiding Ethical Failures

Sometimes we can have trouble determining what is an appropriate use of our person power influence, and what is not. At times we can all be tempted to be expeditious.

However, if we have taken the time to think through who we are at our core - or, if we are not that concrete within ourselves, what we want to be best remembered for - then we can guard against injudicious shortcuts that will look appalling on the front page of the paper.

When we are in business, then the first thing we need to consider is whether our intended action is consistent with our company goals; or if is driven from our own self-interest.

Once we have nailed that, then we can ask ourselves if our proposed action is for 'good', if it is fair, and if others - ie, a 'reasonable' person - would see it that way as well.

These four questions together form a model, developed by Cavanagh, Moberg and Velasquez (1981) called the Ethical Action Guidelines (Daft, 2008). The actual questions are:
  1. Is the action consistent with the organisation’s goals, rather than being self-motivated purely by self-interest?
  2. Does the action respect the rights of individuals and groups affected by it?
  3. Does the action meet the standards of fairness and equity?
  4. Would you wish others to behave in the same way if the action affected you?(Daft, 2008, pp. 378)
Asked in this order, and taken together, the answers to these questions provide a guide to evaluate the ethics of any intended act. Any noes mean the action is not ethical.

All of us, be we leaders or followers, must be aware of our ethical responsibilities. We can walk, step by step, away from what is ethical by not formally checking in with our intended actions.

Not checking in is how we get Enrons. And Auschwitzes.


  • Cavanagh, G. F., Moberg, D. J., & Velasquez, M. (1981). The Ethics of Organizational Politics. Academy of Management Review 6(3), 363-374.
  • Daft, Richard L. (2008). The Leadership Experience (4th Edition). USA: Thomson South-Western


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