Monday, 31 May 2010

Professionally ethical and morally corrupt?

When I first began my PhD and starting working within the UK military's Royal Air Force, the Group Captain I was working with made it very clear to me that within his representation of Authentic Leadership there is a differentiation between the personal and the professional.

I was only to study professional leadership within the RAF. Naturally I agreed. After all, Leadership, much as it is a personal journey, is most often considered to be a professional role, and it was the perception of that role that I was investigating.

Of course, always curious, I wanted to explore what he meant in more depth.

It transpired that he meant the difference between what he described as professional ethics and personal morals.

Leadership and management within the military (and I expect that this is true within all of the UK's armed forces, not just the RAF) is a highly stressful and pressurised role in an equally stressful environment, and very often marriages bear the brunt of that pressure. Before a marriage breaks down irrevocably, or perhaps as a way of coping within a marriage that hasn't yet broken down irrevocably, some service men and women, like men and women from all other walks of life, may look outside their marriage for comfort. Within my PhD, I was only to focus on professional ethics and not on personal ones.

As leaders are always expected to be role models, is it possible, I wondered to be both professionally ethical and morally corrupt at the same time? Or is this a value judgement that is severely limiting?

You will have to think about that particular dilema for yourself as I am not about to answer it for you (I couldn't - you need to make up your own mind, baed on your own beliefs and values)

What I can say though is that the Group Commander's comment links to the difference between the way that ethics is perceived in the military in the UK compared to the US where it is very different.

The US military sees ethics as a part of someone’s CHARACTER. e.g. are they honest and trustworthy in what they do? (and therefore, will they do the right thing?) In contrast, the UK military sees ethics as higher moral reasoning, i.e. as the ETHICAL CAPACITY to think through ethical dilemas and therefore to do the right thing.

An interesting insight and not yet something that is really being debated within the UK military, even though ethics are becoming very much debated at the highest levels in all 3 UK armed forces.

I think I can confidently predict that the integrity and transparency of leadership decision-making within the UK's 3 military services will be on the agenda at the highest levels for some time to come.

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