How many leadership decisions do you make daily?
Any decision about what you “ought” to do enters the world of ethical thinking.
Those who think carefully about morality tend to gravitate toward one of three ethical perspectives that dominate the literature in moral philosophy. The three schools of thought are Virtue Ethics, Kantian Ethics and Utilitarianism.
It is important for leaders to be familiar with these approaches to ethics. Doing so will provide decision makers with some guidance when making morally difficult choices. These three approaches can also be useful for leaders who simply need help thinking about the right thing to do.
In this blog post, I want to briefly introduce the reader to three moral principles found in these three ethical perspectives. These principles will help you think more ethically as a leader.
3 Ways to Think Like an Ethical Leader
1. The Golden Mean
Finding a balance in leadership is always important. This is especially the case when making important decisions.
The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle has argued for an approach to morality that is now known as Virtue Ethics. One important feature of this perspective is called the Golden Mean.
The idea here is that people should always strive to find the proper balance between extremes in any circumstance.
On the one hand, we ought to avoid excessive choices, actions or behaviors; events that would promote extravagance or immoderation. On the other hand, we should equally avoid deficient choices, actions and behaviors; events that are lacking or wanting in some important respect.
So, when you find yourself in a tough spot or difficult dilemma, ask yourself, what is the balance between extremes in this case? What is the middle ground in this situation?
The answer is the golden mean. I have found that avoiding extremes has, more times than not, been the right thing to do.The Golden Mean: find the proper balance between extremes in any circumstance. Click To Tweet
2. The Fairness Test
Another prominent ethical principle is known as the universal law.
Originally advanced by Immanuel Kant, this principle is a way to test whether our actions or choices are morally fair.
We typically think that everyone has the same moral obligations.
No one should cheat.
We all should keep our word.
It’s never right to steal from your employer and so forth.
Following these ethical norms is the right thing to do. No exception.
So, making an excess for yourself or justifying why you’re an exception to these moral principles is wrong.
What’s fair for one person, morally speaking, is fair for all people. Saying that everyone else ought to keep their word but you don’t need to, is unfair.
In this way, Kant gives us a handy moral principle.
Simply ask yourself, would I want my action or behavior in this situation to become a universal law for all people to follow?
If you honestly think that it would be morally appropriate for everyone to do as you are doing, then your action is moral. However, if you would object to others acting as you are acting, then your action is probably immoral.If you would object to others acting like you do, then your action is probably immoral. Click To Tweet
Thinking through a tentative choice in this way will ensure that you always act fairly.
3. The Greatest Outcome
A final idea was made popular by a school of thought known as Utilitarianism.
For Utilitarians, morality is about generating good outcomes. Ethical decisions should produce good consequences.Ethical decisions should produce good consequences. Click To Tweet
This is a powerful and simple way to think. One ought to carefully weigh how actions, words or behaviors impact others.
What will be the consequences of my choices? Will they promote good? Will they have a positive impact on people? Or, will they do harm? Will they have net negative impact?
If my actions, words or behaviors produce more positive than negative results, this is a mark in their favor.
The consequences of our choices have important implications for others and leaders would be remise to not think through the potential outcomes of their decisions.
These 3 ethical theories by some of the greatest philosophers are just some of the ways you can think like an ethical leader. By following these three principles, it will put you on the path toward ethical leadership.