Note: The following personal code of ethics was written by Alana Rudder as part of her Ethical Leadership MBA course at Excelsior College.It is also published in Alana’s Portfolium portfolio.
The How is What’s Important
In the ebook, Ethical Leadership: Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Business Culture, Leigh explains that, in ethical leadership, the means by which one reaches their goals is more important than actually meeting the goals (Leigh, 2013, p. 188). By focusing on the how and creating an ethical code that delineates guidelines for doing so, one can create a safe, supportive environment for the purpose of enacting an ethical company culture. By being honest, service-centered, transparent, trusting, loyal, and full of integrity, for example, one both attracts people who adhere to the same values and helps to inspire such behavior in others. As such, by creating a personal code of ethics and then living by it, one becomes a catalyst for a more ethical corporation, which, in turn, becomes a catalyst for a more ethical community. For this reason, the following code of ethics aims to delineate how I will conduct myself to reach my goals in life and in business and, in doing so, aim to become a positive catalyst in the world.
Personal Code of Ethics
The following seven traits make up my code of ethics. It is a list of the ideal ways in which I will choose to interact with people, both in business and in life. The primary trait I wish to enact is service-centeredness. All other traits are meant to put this overriding trait into action.
I will put the needs of my followers and those around me above my own needs. As a leader, I will work to develop each of my followers’ talents and potential regardless of whether doing so means a greater contribution to my personal goals. Put simply, I will treat my followers with love and put love first in making personal and business decisions (Woolf, 2002, p. 67). Love is an action and a verb; as an action, to love is to serve. As a servant leader, I will apply the following definitions of love to decision-making and leadership approach: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (English Standard Version, 2001, 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, ESV). In another version of this passage, “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs…it rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (New International Version, 2011, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In response to this passage, I will lead by serving; I will lead by putting myself aside to put others’ needs first; I will lead with love. The following traits, when put into action, are examples of how I will lead through service.
I will tell the truth, even when it hurts me to do so. I will tell the facts in a way that can be verified (Covey, 2006, p. 157). I will ask myself daily “Am I withholding information that should be shared” (Covey, 2006, p. 157). If the answer is yes, I will disclose the information that is meaningful or impactful to those around me that I have not shared. For example, I will always give credit to whom it is due. I will not leave my followers, colleagues, connections, friends, or loved ones feeling insecure around me because they fear a hidden agenda, the potential for deception, or the unknown. In this way, I will contribute trust, support, and comfort to those around me.
Being trustworthy also means “defining reality” even when reality is tough (Covey, 2006, p. 185). I will share both bad and the good news when it affects those around me. In this way, the people in my life and business stakeholders will never feel I am subduing genuineness or the whole truth by sugarcoating bad news; in turn, this will allow them to feel fully secure in accepting that any good news I speak is the whole truth with no hidden component they should fear. As I do, I will always be hard on problems and soft on people so those around me may feel completely secure in coming to me for support with both the good and bad that impacts their hearts and lives, even through their own failures. I will work to right the wrongs while simultaneously supporting the people involved for the best possible outcome for their lives and careers.
I will be transparent about my weaknesses and continually and explicitly work to improve them. I will apologize promptly for wrongs against loved ones, colleagues, connections, stakeholders, or friends. When I make a mistake, I will not deny it, cover it up, point fingers, or try to justify wrongs with excuses; I will not wait to admit mistakes until I am forced to do so. In apologizing, I will acknowledge the damage done to its full extent. I will then correct it and make up for it by doing a little more (Covey, 2006, p. 160). For example, if property damage occurs as a result of my actions or those of my business, I will pay for the damaged property, then pay a little more to make up for the inconvenience or emotional damage done. In the same way, I will treat others as I wish to be treated (The Names of God Bible, 2011, Luke 6:31), forgiving wrongs promptly and completely.
While I will always share the whole truth, I will not share other people’s truth that I have no right to. I will be a safe haven for other people’s fears and problems in so far as it does not make me an accomplice to a wrongdoing. I will speak about others as if they were present (Covey, 2006, p 168) even in their absence. In line with this, I will praise those around me in public and lovingly and supportively offer constructive criticism in private if it will benefit the listener. I will also not allow myself to be present when absent people are spoken about negatively as if they are not present. In this, I will seek the best outcome for those around me and those who are impacted by my influence and decisions.
Further, I will always disclose positive credit to those who have earned it. I will never steal others’ ideas or make it seem my contribution to a positive outcome was greater than it was in reality. As a leader, I will give credit to my team for a job well done without taking that credit as my own accomplishment. In any leadership position or team environment, I will err on the side of extending more credit than I accept myself. To do so, I will use “we” instead of “I” if I must include myself when announcing an accomplishment that was a team effort or was built on the contributions of any other party’s work.
I will work to empower those around me and those under me in business settings and in my personal life by extending trust to them. In doing so, I will strive to become the catalyst for a self-fulfilling prophecy that helps people realize their potential. In general, people who are trusted strive to live up to that trust. I will strive to be the person about whom each person I impact can say “she was influential in my life because she believed in me.” To do so, I will actively work to assume good intent and the best effort of those I have chosen to be around me. This means refraining from micromanaging when I have given someone a position or a task to complete (Covey, 2006, p. 227). This also means giving them the power to make key decisions around tasks they are responsible for completing. At the same time, through other ethical principles on this list, I will remain approachable so those who are striving to live up to that trust can look to me as a resource or guide for doing so.
I will strive to always treat people the way they want to be treated so long as doing so does not violate any of my other codes of ethics. To do so, I will work to show everyone around me that I care about them personally. I will strive to treat people as people, never as a means to a business or any other end. This will mean taking the time to listen to those around me to learn what is valuable to them, what their talents are, what their goals and struggles are, and then to act to show I care about and support them in these parts of their lives. Such action includes showing up to support people in their tough moments and in their victories (Woolfe, 2002, p. 56). In practice, demonstrating respect enacts business decisions like striving to offer health, wellness, and educational resources to employees; making sure employees are safe and have their basic needs met at home; showing up and actively celebrating work and personal victories; and giving employees time to face difficult circumstances in their personal lives without worrying about their livelihood (Woolfe, 2002, p. 61).
Accountability in Commitments
I will deliver the results I say I will and do what I say I will do. To do so, I will refrain from making promises I cannot keep. At the same time, I will not make vague statements that keep me from being able to be held accountable, nor will I refrain from making commitments so I do not have to be held accountable to others (Covey, 2006, p. 215). This means statements around what I will do or deliver will be specific but realistic. If I know I cannot deliver, even if others want me to be able to, I will not make the commitment or I will explicitly state my limitations to following through and adjust my task definition to reflect what I can accomplish. Doing so will demonstrate to others they can feel secure in believing in me and my promises to them.
In addition to keeping my word to other people, I will demonstrate my trustworthiness to those around me by also keeping promises to myself. For example, if I make a resolution to myself to improve my engagement at work by showing up to work meetings five minutes early, I will demonstrate my trustworthiness by following through in public ways. This means transparently stating my self-commitments, creating a plan to follow through on them, and then following set plans to reach personal goals. I will treat publicly keeping commitments to myself as a means to demonstrate to others they can trust my promises to them.
In keeping with my “transparent integrity” inclusion in my code of ethics, if I learn I cannot follow through with a commitment, I will let those around me know as soon as I know so my adjustments are the least damaging possible to those around me. Most importantly, if I fail to keep my word, I will not make excuses for failure, nor will I try to use public relations or any other means to cover up my wrongdoings (Covey, 2006, p. 215). I will admit to my failure immediately and strive to correct it by following through with my original statement, even when it is difficult to do so.
The people who have become my inspiration in life — including Jesus and Mother Theresa — all lead by serving out of love and they reached their goals by putting people first. Put simply, they lead through servant leadership. Servant leadership is “the opposite of what we typically think of leadership. [It] turns the top-down leadership on its head. The leader serves the team” (EPM, 2018). It requires “a desire to serve, acknowledging the viewpoints of others, supporting others so they can meet their objectives, making [a] team feel like a community, involving others in decision-making when appropriate [by being willing to listen], and acting with integrity” (EPM, 2018). My hope is that this code of ethics will not only serve as my guide to becoming the type of leader I have always admired — whether in my personal or professional life — but will become a catalyst to create more such leadership in the world. Like any good set of goals, however, these traits are a stretch for me to live up to, a stretch that I hope will always keep me striving to be better.
Covey, S. (2006). The speed of trust: the one thing that changes everything. New York, NY: Free Press.
EPM. (2018, May 2). Servant leadership. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8rdRFVG0rE
Leigh, A. (2013). Ethical leadership: creating and sustaining and ethical business culture. London, United Kingdom: Kogan Page Limited.
Woolfe, L. (2002). Leadership secrets from the Bible: from Moses to Matthew — management lessons for contemporary leaders. New York, NY: Fine Creative Media, Inc.
New International Version. (2011). New International Bible Online. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13%3A4-7&version=NIV
English Standard Version. (2001). New English Standard Bible. Online. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13%3A4-8&version=ESV
The Names of God Bible. (2011). The Names of God Bible. Online. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+6%3A31&version=NOG