How To Be An Ethical Boss


Leaders must follow three golden rules in order to embody their chosen ethos, writes Graham Massey, the business head of The House, a consultancy that believes valuable businesses are born out of purpose.

What does it take to be an ethical boss? Does it mean championing diversity, or pushing for a carbon-free office, or encouraging volunteering? These are all steps in the right direction, but the most important thing is for an ethical boss to take a step back and consider what “being ethical” means.

Ethics – at least as Aristotle understood it, and he thought about it more than most – is not about ticking off a checklist or keeping up to date with trends and best practices. It’s not even really about judgement or decision-making. Ethics is about consistent behaviour, which involves having an ethos that is expressed in your actions. You are what you do, not what you say.

So there’s no easy guide to follow. Instead, here are the three golden rules of ethical leadership.

Rule 1: Be consistent

Ethical bosses pick their values carefully and live them every day. Their values and ethos might be different from others, and that’s fine. There is no gold standard to live up to, only the standards that a boss sets for himself or herself. However, the employees have the right to expect consistency in how the boss lives out his or her ethos. A boss cannot put values on pause when reality bites.

Rule 2: Lead by example

What’s the point of being an ethical boss? Sure, it helps to guarantee a good night’s sleep better. But it also has implications for the entire business. At The House, we believe leaders create corporate culture in their own image – for better or worse. Bosses must consider what their actions signal about the kinds of behaviour they want to see across the organisation. Bosses should remember: “What you permit, you promote”. Having a consistent ethos lends the authority to challenge behaviour that undermines corporate values.

Rule 3: Tell the truth

This is really the most important rule of all. The simplest way to treat someone fairly is to tell them the truth. We crave truth in every sphere of our lives: politics, business, friendship and love. Whatever the personal ethos or corporate values might be, the employees deserve a true picture of what is expected of them and what they can expect from the leader. Employee surveys consistently bear this out: whether the news is good or bad, they need to hear it straight.

Picking values, sticking to them and communicating them transparently will lead to a healthier, fairer and happier workplace. Any leaders who do this will reap the rewards of being an ethical boss.

 “You are what you do, not what you say.”

Graham Massey


Photo credit: Tim Caynes from flickr