In the spring I had the privilege of leading a discussion for Ethical Reading on the idea of ‘ethical leadership’.
Initially I wasn’t quite sure in what capacity I had been asked – I am a local councillor, a parliamentary candidate and I also run a small business that was one of the founding members of the Ethical Reading collective.
But that reinforced to me actually why the topic was ethical leadership and not management.
Our discussion focused on what Ethical Leadership meant and – importantly – how we can foster it. We agreed that defining what it means to be an ethical leader is actually quite tricky, although it was clear that it meant leading in a way that was conscious and based on the fundamentals of what we believe in. It also means following through and consistency but also, as I said having at least some people following your lead.
Ethical leadership is about doing what is right, not what is easy but also about bringing others with you.
To take an example from my political world I was very proud to second the motion in which Reading declared a climate emergency. I warned though in my speech that warm words would be followed by difficult choices and possibly controversy.
In order to deliver on the promise of tackling climate change it’s important to not just plough ahead but to lead – to find others who can help.
What we focused on was how it is easier to be an ethical leader when there are others around you also leading in an ethical way. Conversely a toxic environment encourages toxic leadership.
We are not passengers in this though, culture is a human created thing and we can therefore change it.
In my business I’m lucky to have shared an office with a range of other small businesses for the last 3 years. It has made that journey easier, as I’ve picked up ideas, tips, and learnt from the success and mistakes of others. A conscious choice was made by many of us in our co-working environment to be open, inclusive and friendly. It created a culture that was about more than putting inspirational quotes on the wall.
The same applies in ethical leadership. In practical terms this isn’t about just training or education, it is about spending time with others attempting to do similar things and building a culture that celebrates and thanks our ethical leaders.
It is a worthy thing to aspire to have a hero in our midst who can lead ethically in the most difficult of circumstances, a Nelson Mandela type figure, but it is a far better thing to create a community in which it is easy for leaders to be ethical and for ethical people to become leaders.
Cllr Rachel Eden ACMA, Director Holy Brook Associates
Rachel is the founder of award winning local small business, Holy Brook Associates, elected councillor and parliamentary candidate. She is particularly interested in how leadership in different contexts can be a force for positive change and is hoping to learn as much as she shares.