Current technology and communication provide a higher than ever level of transparency in business. Rose Procter, director for the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership at the University of North Georgia (UNG), talks about current issues in business and the need for ethical leaders.
What are some ethical issues facing our business leaders every day?
Today's ethical issues range from very simple to extremely complex. One example of a simple issue is company smartphones. In today's business, one of the first things a company may do is equip you with a phone. The question this places upon our leadership is, do they contact their employees whenever they want? Technology has provided immeasurable good, but it has also provided new simple ethical decisions our business leaders now face on a daily basis.
With the globalization of business, simple things like modes of communication are morphed into difficult decisions with complex outcomes. Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, was recently in the news for publicly firing an employee during a meeting. Though he fired only one employee, he communicated something to his other employees that he may not have wanted to. Sometimes we miss the simple opportunities of leadership by complicating what it really is – leading. We need to discuss and educate on the simple to avoid the complex.
How have business ethics shifted in the past few decades?
In the 1980s, business ethics were seen more as business philanthropy and "giving back." Today, we call that corporate social responsibility. On some levels, we still view business ethics through this lens. This is like putting a Band-Aid on a really big wound. We need to treat the infection of unethical motives and unrealistic expectations to really make changes in businesses' ethical cultures. We need to install a system that encourages people to want to be ethical, not one that tries to force them.
For decades throughout business in the U.S., there was a culture of "it's not personal, it's business." Businesses are still working to repair the damages of this perception. The positive value of business within our society has been shrouded by the negative and the "it's just business" attitude. In educating the next generation of business leaders, we should focus on honesty, integrity and values in business, and they will become leaders who want to give back.
What ethical training should business schools be providing to our future leaders?
Many of our business and government leaders have found themselves facing the age-old issues at hand of ethical infractions like affairs, drugs and greed. Either way, it ends at the same destination – the loss of trust and credibility as a leader. We highlight these unethical leaders in case studies, news and in our classrooms, but business schools should be providing our future leaders an ethical roadmap based on how thousands of business leaders are doing it the right way. For example, Georgia-based YKK USA CEO Alex Gregory recently discussed with me his handling of a plant closure. He held open or newly-created positions across the company for the displaced employees, and not one employee lost their job.