Questions help find ethical leaders

Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2002

Who is the most ethical person you know?

List three characteristics you associate with the most ethical person you know.

This was part of an exercise in a session on ethics in leadership I participated in while attending the National Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (Home Economics) Conference in Kansas City.

When I stop and think about leadership, it becomes clear that we are all leaders, which means we are all accountable.

Socrates is quoted as saying, "Ethics is a matter of knowing what is right from what is wrong and doing what is right."

It would seem Socrates' definition of ethics is even simple enough for a child to understand. And isn't that what parents, teachers and other adults try to teach and model for children -- the difference between right and wrong, then do what's right?

This brings to mind the Josephson Institute of Ethics, Six Pillars of Character. The six pillars are the characteristics of an ethical person. They are:

Trustworthiness: worthy of trust, honor and confidence (honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, loyalty).

Respect: regard for dignity, worth and autonomy of all persons (treating others with courtesy, civility, politeness; tolerating others' beliefs; accepting individual differences without prejudice; refraining from violence, coercion and intimidation).

Responsibility: acknowledgment and performance of duties to others and self (accountability, pursuit of excellence).

Justice and Fairness: making decisions on appropriate factors without conflict of interest (commitment to equity and equality; openness to information and ideas; reasonableness; due process; consistency; fair play).

Caring: regard for well-being of others (kindness, compassion, consideration, unselfishness, charity).

Civic Virtue and Citizenship: recognition of living up to social obligations (participation in democratic process; law abidance, protection of environment, community service, doing one's share).

Making ethical decision requires the decision-maker identify and eliminate unethical options and select the best ethical alternative.

The presenter in this seminar suggested a three-step model for making ethical decisions: 1) ethical decisions must take into account and reflect a concern for the well-being of all stakeholders; 2) core ethical values and principles always take precedence over nonethical ones, and 3) an ethical value should be violated only when it is essential to advance another true ethical value which will produce the greater balance of good in the long run.

The Josephson Institute suggests these personal warning systems: "Kid on Your Shoulder" (would you do it in front of children?)

"Front Page of Newspaper" (would you do it if it were published on the front page of the local newspaper?)

"Golden Rule" (would you want this done to you?)

"Rule of Universality" (if everyone did it, would it still be right to do?)

So, with this information in mind, who is the most ethical person you know? List three characteristics you associate with the most ethical person you know. Now, go tell that person he/she is the most ethical person you know.

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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