What Does it Mean to be an Ethical Leader?
By: Victor Abalos
California headlines the past few weeks have featured a number of Latino political figures getting the kind of attention elected officials try very hard to avoid.
They probably learned the hard way there is such as a thing as “bad” publicity and after reading about their specific situations, it seemed there were several opportunities along the way they could have avoided ending up fodder for the news cycle.
Those missed opportunities are generating conversations among local elected officials about ethics.
Some of these elected officials told me they’ve started asking themselves what they would have done in place of some of their less fortunate colleagues. We’re not talking about those elected officials who were caught actually committing crimes – we’re talking about the ones who were “tripped up” by making poor decisions when faced with ethical considerations.
It reminded me of a workshop we organized for a group of policymakers from this region a couple of years ago.
Our friends at the Institute for Local Government sent a retired city attorney who gave the group a great little presentation on ethics. But when we went around the room getting feedback one thing became clear: The group had a hard time distinguishing between “what is legal” and “what is ethical.”
The consensus in the room seemed to be that as elected officials, as long as they weren’t breaking any laws or regulations, they could do whatever they needed to get things done.
All of this begs the question: What does it mean to be an Ethical Leader?
It presupposes, of course, that our leaders want to be ethical and based on the many local Latino elected officials we know and have worked with, I believe that to be true.
At the Southern California Latino Policy Center we believe ethical leadership is necessary. It’s why we have a blog dedicated to Ethics in our newsletter every month. Our policymakers must lead by example. At a time when so many resources are being focused on getting Latinos to the polls, reading another story about less-than-exceptional behavior by an elected official doesn’t help that cause.
So what is ethical leadership?
The ILG’s website under “Ethics and Transparency” sums it up with a couple of questions:
“…how does the conscientious public servant sort through competing considerations and determine ‘the right thing to do?’ When it comes to serving the public, how does one put one’s values into practice?”
Starting this week we will utilize social media to pose a series of questions – aimed specifically at Latino policymakers but encouraging others to join in the conversation. We hope our questions stimulate discussion. And perhaps more importantly, greater clarity that there is indeed a considerable difference between “what is legal” and “what is ethical.”
Ethical leaders make ethics a clear and consistent part of their agendas, set standards, model appropriate behavior, and hold everyone accountable
(From a non-profit housed at NYU Stern’s Business and Society Program)
Want Different Results? Change Your Definition of Leadership
(Excellent HuffPost article by Kathleen Shafer)
The Personal Lives of Public Officials
(Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University)
Victor Abalos is Executive Director of the Southern California Latino Policy Center and Editor of the Latino Policy Connection.