Falling Upward

Falling Upward

Falling Upward

Tonight’s guest blog is from Sonya Law, sharing the experience of Falling Upward.

How to create a culture of Ethical Leadership and Courageous Conversations

Falling upward is how it can feel like for leaders when faced with an ethical dilemma and there is no rule book…

Firstly, every organization I have worked for has an ethics policy which sets out ethical behavior for all employees and consequences of an unethical act.

What it does not set out is clear guidance in complex environments where we need to make ethical decisions.  We have all sat through hours of mind-numbing ethics training with textbook like scenarios that fail to apply to real life situations.

Secondly, a true ethical dilemma, is a moment in time in your career, that occurs only a handful of times that tests you’re grit, resolve and ability to think under pressure.  Characterized by 3 main things: you are often alone there is limited time to think, you are acting on gut instincts, fear will kick in followed by a momentary dread of you whole career flashing before you. You know that in this moment it’s not the right thing for you personally, you may need to challenge the status quo, you may take a hiding in the process from those more senior than you, there are no accolades for doing the right thing, it is a quiet and largely unwitnessed act of good faith.

Your resilience, fortitude and courage will be tested and it will feel like falling upward no matter what your position is in the company, Emerging Leader or Senior Leadership Team.

Lastly, ethical leadership at the basic foundation is about following a rule book, however the interpretation and application of ethics is often not clear cut, against a complex external environment.  Imagine sky diving for the first time you understand the safety rules and laws of gravity, what goes up must come down and you alone are left with the ultimate decision to jump.  Before we can free fall, we must go upward in the plane, reach dizzying heights, adrenalin pumping, fear kicks in and your whole life flashes before you as you get ready to jump.

Ethical leadership – takes courage when we make a stand for what is right, we are faced with a difficult dilemma, no clear path of what to do just a guttural feeling of discomfort and a racing heartbeat.

In the military, there are a clear set of rules that must be followed and order of command that must be obeyed, yet the military still face the same ethical dilemmas that we do in Business.  Because fundamentally we are all human beings who make decisions just like the moment right before we jump out of the plane.  Early in my career as a recruiter I was frustrated when a candidate wouldn’t accept the job offer; what I learnt very quickly is that people have a fundamental floor they often do what is right for them.

How do we create a ‘lived culture’?

  1. Human Resources set Culture
  2. Senior Leadership Team role model behaviors
  3. Employees observe these behaviors.

How do we create a culture of Ethical Leadership and Courageous Conversations?

  1. Accountability and Responsibility
  2. Trust – Create a Circle of Safety
  3. Educate the Senior Leadership Team how to have Courageous Conversations.

Accountability and Responsibility:

Encourage your employees to come to you with ethical dilemmas with what they see are the ethical challenges and what needs fixing in the organization.  Resist the temptation as a manager to fix it for them, by giving them the responsibility it activates thinking and accountability.  Ask them what do you think? How would you solve it? Empower them.

Trust – Create a Circle of Safety:

Managers tell people what to do but true leaders help people to feel safe, promote thinking and drive a culture of empowerment. Where employees are empowered to do the right things as opposed to the right thing for them which typically stems from a fear-based culture the opposite of a circle of safety.  Simon Sinek describes what he calls the Circle of Safety and establishing trust in his book titled ‘Leaders Eat last’.

Educate Senior Leadership Team (SLT) in why they need to have courageous conversations:

As a Human Resources Manager, I held a session exclusively with the SLT on the importance of courageous conversation and in 2019 took them to see Brene Brown live in Melbourne, Australia with the message that by having courageous conversations ourselves is the first step and encourages employees to do the same.

So, what’s it worth to you?

Your reputation and financial sustainability.