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Ethics in Public Service – Part 4 !!!

We should never be afraid of the truth, regardless of where it leads us. Thomas Jefferson

  • Destruction from within not without
  • Deciding how to lead
  • Establishing Trust through Leadership
  • Ethical Behavior as an Organizational Theme
  • Why Morale Is Important in Organizational Ethics
  • Conclusion

History has shown the majority of civilizations of the world to have been destroyed from within, not from without. This trend is also present within corporations, agencies, and organizations. Destruction is typically from within—greed, power, competition, and materialism are just a few of the reasons behind internal destruction.

The area of public service is not exempt from such tradition. The world that we live in very often can be morally disappointing. This is often due to a lack of ethics with regards to the area of leadership. Individuals become leaders as a result of a variety of possibilities. Some are developed. Some possess qualities that lend themselves to being an effective leader.

Some acquire leadership through force, wealth, social, or political connections. Yet, others become leaders as a result of circumstances or timing. However, regardless of the reason that an individual finds himself in a leadership role, he cannot be a leader without also having willing followers.

“Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the goal” 

“It is clear that leaders must consider a multiplicity of issues and concerns in making consistently ethical decisions and in developing a code of ethical behavior for their organizations. It is the leader’s role to set a clear and uniform example of ethical behavior and to articulate specific expectations and goals so that ethical behavior becomes an integral theme of the organization.”

Leadership is as complex a topic as that of ethics, so when one stops to combine the two, the result can be quite intimidating. To simplify the concept, in his book, George Washington on Leadership, describes leadership as

“knowing yourself, knowing where you want to go, and then taking others to that new place.”

There are countless leadership styles employed to accomplish this daunting task. One way is to focus analysis upon the ends/means/consequences equation. This leads to three primary questions:

1. What is the goal?

2. What means will we use to get there?

3. What types of tradeoffs and compromises must be made along the way?

“Ethics lie at the heart of all human relationships and, hence, at the heart of the relationship between leaders and followers”.

Throughout history, successful leaders have been those who have gained the trust of those who they have been responsible for leading. There can be much debate over how “trust” is defined; however, regardless of this lack of agreement, most individuals are well aware when trust is in place and when it is not.

Trust is a result of proper communication and clarity of purpose within an organization. Trust is confidence and reliance upon an individual, organization, or object. It includes possessing confidence in strength and integrity of the same.

Through the establishment of trust within an organization and, if able to maintain the trust, leaders will be able to provide effective guidance and work on the proper development of the organization.

As with personal relationships, a proper foundation of trust serves to support an organization through difficult times and enable leadership the time and ability to find and implement solutions that will assist the organization in overcoming the obstacles presented.

In their book, Learning to Lead (1997), Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith mention qualities of leadership that are integral to engendering trust. The qualities mentioned by the authors are vision, empathy, consistency, and integrity.


Successful leaders are those who inspire and create vision. Leadership vision serves to provide a foundation for organizational purpose and engender trust, which can enable followers to develop personal identify and feel vested in the vision and its creation. The leader involves us in the visions, empowers us to create it, and communicates the shared vision so that we integrate it into our lives.


Leaders who possess unconditional empathy for those working within the organization will emerge as the most successful. Although their opinions may vary considerably from those who work for them, trust is established when employees believe that a leader understands their view and can relate to where they are coming from.


A leader who maintains a level of consistency with regard to his stance on topics, his vision, his leadership style, and organizational placement will be trusted and emerge as successful. Although consistent, the successful leader also will be willing to consider new evidence and new events when making organizational decisions.


A leader who maintains integrity that is above question will have the trust of his employees and co-workers. When a leader takes a stance on topics, based on his moral standard, and these actions are observable to those who work with and for the leader, he will gain their trust.

This same leader must be ready, as well, to hold others to be accountable for their actions and decisions, based on the standard of ethics laid out and adhered to by the leader. The aforementioned qualities are integral components of successful leadership and aptly explain how trust and integrity play a role within this success. Take a moment to stop and reflect on individuals within your own life who you view as having strong leadership skills. Would you agree that those individuals possessed, and put into action, the aforementioned qualities?

Just as within sports, motivation originates with the leadership. The leadership values and motivation of an organization must start at the top if it is to find its way to those farther down the line. If the ethical behavior of an organization is in question, or there is a need for change, then the establishment, or modification, of an organizational ethical code may be necessary. With reference to organizational leadership, it is important to recognize that any change must be made at, and lived at, the top before those outside of leadership positions can be expected to adhere to it. Lead by example.

The definition of morale as it applies to the workplace has changed over time, but a recent definition would be “the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand”.

This includes a sense of common purpose with respect to the group, sometimes referred to as esprit de corps. When morale is high, typically ethical violations are low. When morale is low, ethical violations increase.

Therefore, the benefits of increasing and maintaining organizational morale are obvious. Although many organizations suffer from poor morale, leaders often overlook it. This indifference can be devastating to organizational cohesion.

Failure of leadership to recognize or respond to poor morale can be due to a number of reasons:

1. Ignoring it: Ignoring poor morale will not change it. In fact, it typically results in matters deteriorating even further.

2. Lack of understanding: Even with a desire to do something, without knowing what to do or how to do it, leaders are (or appear to be) just as helpless or indifferent to the issues. Proper leadership training will minimize the instances of this occurring.

3. Negative attention on self: Many leaders will fail to address morale issues or concerns for fear of bringing negative attention on themselves. Leaders fail to recognize that poor morale is often a result of failure of the leader to be a role model and to provide proper motivation, while exuding positive morale. This self-centeredness approach to leadership will almost certainly lead to the demise of the organization.

It is illogical to believe, or to expect, that agencies are capable of eliminating all corruption. However, what is of paramount concern if ethical violations are to be reduced is that the leadership of an organization establishes an environment that fosters trust and integrity and that, if unethical behavior is discovered, makes it clear that such violations will not be tolerated.

Leadership is not simply day-to-day administrative tasks. Leaders must be aware and have a pulse of their people. When mistakes are made, from an organizational leadership standpoint, they must be owned and acknowledged.

Perfection is an impossibility. Mistakes will happen. What is important is that mistakes not be repeated and that they be learned from. Failure to learn from them, and repeating them, is tantamount to incompetence.

At each step of the way, leadership must continue to question whether the decisions that are made are consistent with the organization’s values that have been identified, as well as being in line with the individual’s ethical beliefs, the one who is tasked with making them and serving in a leadership capacity.



September 5, 2017

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