People who can’t lead themselves probably can’t lead others. The next fundamental question to ask about a leader is whether or not he/she will use leadership for good or evil. For the sake of justice and the social good, people who would use leadership skills to achieve unethical things should not pursue leadership development. To drive my point, Adolf Hitler is an archetypal example.
In a less extreme example, one of my MBA Professors once said something along the lines of “I regret that I spent a career marketing sugary cereals to parents so that they can feed it to their children”. Good leadership is about influencing people by being trustworthy. Being ethical earns you trust and respect. My recommendations with regards to ethics are as follows:
Understand that ethics and moral standards affect your trustworthiness. It is no good to aim to do bad because you will be doomed from maintaining trustworthiness. In the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Franklin Covey advises us to “begin with the end in mind” (Habit 2). Therefore, remember that:
- leadership is about influencing people;
- continuously influencing people across a variety of situations requires trustworthiness in a variety of situations; and
- people have a hard time trusting evil people.
One simple guideline for ethics is reciprocity. Do unto others as you would unto yourself. If you’ve ever cut someone off while they were talking, you probably weren’t treating them the way you would like to be treated. Who would have known that poor manners doom many poor leaders?
Another ethics guideline is to prioritize the good of others before yourself. See how far you can go without becoming all bitter about it. It’s a real challenge for everyone and it’s a big reason why leadership takes a lifetime to master. It’s also the reason why many people revere Jesus, Gandhi, and most other people who sacrifice themselves for the good of the people. In basic training, they used to punish the whole platoon for every single person that was below average in practically any group task that we had to accomplish. This incentivized everyone to help the people most in need of help for any particular group task. Overtime, many of us gained the habit of putting the team before the self. Lots of people quit the military during basic because they couldn’t make this fundamental attitude switch.
An ethical leader earns trust. Trustworthy individuals have a much easier time influencing a variety of people across a variety of situations. Great influencers make great leaders.