Friday, 28 May 2010

Whose Ethics?

I have recently been touring the country delivering introductory workshops on Authentic Leadership to a number of branches of the UK's CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development). I've met some great people, and had some fascinating discussions!

One of the questions that keeps coming up is, “If Authentic leadership is majorly concerned with ethics, whose ethics are they?”

What a great question! What so we mean by ethics? (or, perhaps to phrase it slightly differently, an ethical framework), and are ethics personal or professional, individual or collective?

I'm going to give you my personal answer from my own perspective, based on the research that I have done so far. For me, at this moment in time, this is a bit of a work-in-progress answer, so we may find that my thoughts on the subject change over future years and as I get nearer to the end of my PhD and my Viva. (It's bound to be one of the questions that I get asked if I don't make my thinking and my rationale absolutely crystal clear in my thesis, so now is as good a time to be thinking about it as any!)

Rodney Smith, from the Department of Government Relations, University of Sydney, maintains that ethics are collective not personal. He's suggesting that they are socially constructed frameworks that we choose to operate within. In fact, he goes further, suggesting that ethics are formal collective mechanisms of behaviour which are transparent codes of conduct based on democracy and discussion, which are collectively agreed.

He doesn't say that they are always written down, historically, some cultures have had speech, but lacked a written, recorded language. So what he's suggesting I think is that our own personal and professional ethical frameworks are shaped by, and exists within, a collective, socially constructed one.

We therefore need to differentiate between the collective and the personal when talking about ethics. Although they are often used interchangeably, I think that some writers use the word ethics when they mean the collective framework, and morals when they mean our individual position within that framework.

However leadership is inherently personal; Authentic Leadership even more so, so where does that leave us?

My position today then, in so far as my thinking has developed, in answer to the question, "Whose ethics?" is to say that ethics are the collectively and culturally agreed rules of behaviour which govern what is deemed as socially and culturally acceptable. And our morals are where we personally position ourselves within that framework.

I hope that helps ........... you don't need to agree with me by the way!

My best wishes as always,
Fiona x

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