Date posted: 20/03/2019 3 min read

Ethical leadership starts with individual authenticity and integrity

CA ANZ President Stephen Walker discusses with academic expert Professor Karin Lasthuizen how best to achieve ethical leadership.

In Brief

  • Ethical leadership is relevant to everyone and discussion of the issue shouldn’t be restricted to the boardroom
  • Ethical outcomes are driven by personal intention and purpose
  • Ethical leadership involves reinforcing ethically aligned behaviour and sanctioning ‘wrong’ behaviour in the business

The quality of impact a leader has on any organisation begins with the ethical code of the individual.

Being ethically aligned as an individual and having this translate into leadership is a key priority for Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand President Stephen Walker.

Walker recently spoke with Professor Karin Lasthuizen, the Brian Picot Chair of Ethical Leadership at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, about the hallmarks of ethical leadership and the importance of role models in the leadership of organisations.

Ethical morality: Big and small

Professor Lasthuizen says ethical leadership shouldn't be misconstrued as simply a "nice to have" when it comes to driving profits or outcomes in business.

It's a deeper responsibility that falls on all individuals – whether leaders or not – because ethical leadership is rooted in how we effect change in others and the world around us.

"It starts with this purpose or this intention that you want to have ethical outcomes," Professor Lasthuizen says.

"Do you want to do the right thing for people and society?"
Professor Karin Lasthuizen, Brian Picot Chair of Ethical Leadership at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.

Professor Lasthuizen suggests ethical leaders must frame business outcomes not only with macro business intentions of how the organisation affects its employees and society at large, but on a micro scale as well.

"What is your purpose? What do you want to achieve?" asks Professor Lasthuizen. "Do you align with the values of society, or values of your employees? Do you want to do the right thing for people and society?"

Walker's own experience is that the integrity a person shows on an individual level inevitably spills over into their role as leader.

"That means you see the same person, whatever role they might be performing or in whatever setting they are. They're authentic," Walker says.

Supporting ethically run business

Professor Lasthuizen says role models clarify the ethical intentions and expectations of an organisation. It is especially pertinent that leaders communicate consistently and honestly because most employees aren’t privy to boardroom activities, she says.

Professor Lasthuizen adds that traditionally organisations have rewarded those considered "high financial performers" even at the risk of compromising ethics. She says reinforcement is a necessary component of ethical leadership, which means rewarding ethically aligned behaviour and sanctioning that which is not.

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