Stories abound of the unethical acts of top-level leaders. Misuse of the organization’s resources, insider trading in stocks based on confidential information and sexual impropriety are a few common occurrences. Why do leaders act in this way? Do those who have no moral code to guide them take these actions? Or are these people under pressure to compete at any cost? One argument made is that it is not only unprincipled leaders or those under heavy competitive pressure who act unethically. It can be the very success of leaders that gives them the power and resources that can cause them to take actions that are obviously unethical.
The Bathsheba syndrome is named after King David of Israel and his affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his army officers. It describes how a leader’s success can cause unethical acts that the leader knows to be wrong. When the leader becomes successful, that person is given privileged access to information and the control over organizational resources. These are given for a reason. They are tools with which the leader keeps in touch with events in and outside the organization and which the leader uses to set and revise the organization’s strategy. But a leader might come to think that these tools of top leadership are in fact rewards for past successes. The leader may relax and enjoy the privileges and control of the position. When the leader succumbs to temptations that abound at the top, strategic focus may be lost. The job of leader is not being done.
Often these unethical actions can be covered up using the power that comes with the position. This then reinforces the leader’s belief in a personal ability to control outcomes. Further unethical actions are then taken. Leaders may come to see themselves as above the law with respect to the rules of the organization. Information about these actions is kept from those lower in the hierarchy. Power is wielded to force others to accept these abuses. Those who complain are likely to be removed from their positions.
The lesson in the Bathsheba syndrome is that everyone is susceptible to the temptations that come with power and control. It is not just the unprincipled that take advantage of being on top. To avoid this problem the leader must lead a balanced life of work and family. In this way the leader is less likely to lose touch with reality. It is also critical for leaders to remember that privilege and status were given to do the job and not as a reward.
The leadership of ethics refers to the leader’s actions to help set ethical guidelines and to encourage their use in organizational decision-making. Because leaders help to create the social knowledge in an organization, they must concern themselves with acting ethically and creating the conditions that encourage others to act in an ethical manner.
Acting ethically is critically important. Organizational members must see the leader as responsible and credible if they are to act ethically themselves. To create ethical awareness and the conditions for ethical actions, the leader needs to take three actions.
- First, a code of ethical conduct should be created.
- Second, ethical and unethical actions must be made explicit. Ethical gray areas must be discussed and clarified.
- Third, the leader must be willing to reward ethical behaviour and punish unethical behaviour.
From Richard Field on Management and Information Science HERE.