“Ethical leadership. The coin of the realm.”
That was the opening pronouncement from one of the participants in a recent meeting I attended of business and nonprofit executives discussing ethical leadership.
While everyone around the table nodded and responded positively to this highly-regarded colleague, there were no direct responses. This initial comment, however, set the tone for some internal debate, and not long into the discussion another participant stated passionately: “I can’t remember the last time I heard about a business leader taking a strong stand on anything having to do with values and ethics. Everyone is concerned about shareholder return or simply survival.”
These opposing opinions reflect the challenges facing leaders today. While all types of organizations must cope with the decline in trust due to daunting forces of the financial crisis, unemployment and bad behavior of people in power, there is a renewed focus by leaders to build or rebuild trust. The most effective trust-building strategies, which we will explore below, are those that include a sincere commitment from top leadership and a values-based approach to management that is reinforced throughout the organization.
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