In times of crisis, ethical outcomes require systems thinking. The growing complexity of the world around us has increasingly required our leaders to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in mind at the same time: nations balancing economic growth with climate change, individuals juggling work and family, and businesses balancing growth with reducing their environmental footprint.
Our current dilemma has just escalated all that to a new level – discomfort becoming agony when faced with a choice between two universal goods and the pressure to deliver a decision that will ‘solve’ the problem. This is the essential ethical dilemma, when our values and principles require opposite things at the same time and the best we can do is choose the ‘least bad’ outcome, knowing there will be suffering no matter what our decision.
The principles of ethical decision making must also therefore evolve to keep pace, arguably becoming more important than ever for leaders wishing to resurface on the other side of this crisis with trust intact.
People dislike ethical discomfort, but leaders now need to hold this space and take time in their decision-making process for good solutions. Over-emphasizing one aspect of any problem, to the neglect of its opposite, can cause huge issues. And systems thinking tells us that there will always be ‘unknown unknowns’ that will somehow, also need to be factored into our decision making.
But as Einstein wisely told us – in every challenge also lies opportunity. How could that be?
Before the arrival of COVID-19 the burning issue of our time was trust. How quickly it could be lost was clear – how it could be restored had become the million-dollar question, causing scholars and business leaders alike to revisit good old-fashioned ethics and their appropriate role in our modern business world.
And here we are, only months later, witnessing a clear prioritisation of human life over business outcomes. With action replacing rhetoric on a daily basis and communities galvanising in response.
We have seen the miracle of bi-partisan politics in operation through a united national cabinet. Unions working with government for the greater good of the Australian workforce. The public and private health sectors combining forces to protect our most vulnerable and Australian laws being bent and broken by their makers, where they no longer serve the common good.
And that’s Ethical Leadership in practice – values being clearly stated and then clearly acted upon. Inspiring a ripple effect of volunteerism, random acts of kindness and community connectedness the likes of which we’ve never before seen – and all in the face of physical distancing.
Want to see more of that? So do we!
Because that is the opportunity this challenge offers – for ethical decision making to become the foundation-stone for our new model of ‘business as usual’ on the other side of all this.
Interested in joining our movement?
Watch this space…
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Explore how to promote ethical behaviour and foster integrity with QUT’s Ethical Leadership in Practice.