Experts’ Table — Good Leadership is an Ethical Responsibility

🕑 4 minutes read | Jul 16 2019 | By Becky Gendron

Before you read this, take a moment and think back over the course of your career.

No matter how long you’ve been working, no matter how many different jobs you’ve had, no matter how many companies and industries you’ve had a part in, it’s practically a certainty that it’s easy for you to recall both the best boss you’ve had and the worst.

Studies have repeatedly identified poor management as a critical issue for businesses looking to find, develop, and retain the best possible talent, regardless of industry[i].

Indeed, for many people, the entire path of their careers has been shaped by the experiences they’ve had with their managers. A good manager can be a role model, a guiding force, a coach, or more; a bad one can disrupt and damage professional and personal lives in ways that are not easy to repair.

While the ethics of business have been in the press more and more often of late, less attention has been paid to those daily violations and transgressions that happen because of managers doing the wrong thing.

Training and development professionals have long known this. In our field, we see the effects of excellent and poor management every day, and we spend much of our time and energy working to develop methods for building and honing the skills of leaders at all levels of the organizations we work with.

We do this, often, in the name of productivity, effective development of people, job satisfaction, retention, inclusion, team effectiveness — the list goes on and on. It seems like every year there’s a new term or buzzword to describe the rationale for being a good boss.

That said, years of being in this field as an individual contributor, a supervisor, a manager, and a solo consultant have convinced me that the single best justification for being a good boss is that it is the right, moral, and ethical thing to do; that there is an ethical justification for treating people well that tops all other considerations – with the added bonus of the fact that doing the right thing will also make the other things happen.

Let’s do some basic math as we think about this.

Let’s assume the average worker puts in forty hours a week at work. (We all know many who do more, of course. Some of us likely wish that was a standard workweek for us.) There are 168 hours in a seven-day week; let’s once again be generous and take the weekend off of that total and say that the workweek is five days long, with 120 hours available in those five days.

According to that calculation, in any given five-day workweek a full one-third of a person’s time is spent under a manager’s oversight. Take away six to eight hours of sleep, and that fraction rises to one-half of a person’s waking hours in a given workweek.

That is a lot of time to be subjected to poor management; a lot of time with poor feedback, bad direction, minimal support, micromanagement, lack of skill development, planned and unplanned ineffective team building and leadership…the list of potential problems goes on and on. I’m sure you could add to it from your own experiences.

It’s no wonder that people are professional and even personally damaged, some permanently, by one or more of those behaviors. It should make the need for good management as an ethical imperative and responsibility even more obvious.

I don’t want to suggest that all bad managers are deliberately abusive or malicious — far from it. While there is certainly some small percentage of the total population of leaders who are, the majority are likely simply doing what they do out of a lack of knowledge of good management behaviors.

They may have had minimal training, having been promoted into their positions based on their superior technical skills as individual contributors; they may have had training but never having had reinforcement for it on the job; they may lose their cool and default to bad practices when under pressure.

Of course, they may simply be trying to follow what they’ve seen modeled for them in their own careers. They may have seen the management style used by others in their past and consciously or not model their management style on that.

This leads to another important point: poor management often becomes embedded in an organization. Without active efforts at training and development of interpersonal and leadership skills  and on-the-job follow-up and reinforcement of good management as part of an ethical and supportive organizational culture, it can be a toxic element that poisons the overall success of the company.

More to the point? Poor leadership hurts people — real people, with families and friends and desires for success, accomplishment, and satisfaction. That alone should be enough for any organization to invest in the training and development of good leaders. It’s the right thing to do.


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