Leadership in the Time of Epic Changes and Struggles Over Ethics and Values

Leadership in Times of Crisis

The world is changing at a frenetic pace and with these changes; the world of business is being affected as well. No longer can business leaders take their positions of their companies for granted and instead, they have to contend with slipping market share, decrease in profits, shareholder activism, and consumer preferences changing in a matter of months and weeks rather than years or decades, that was the case earlier.

It is often said that business leaders in the 1960s and the 1970s could remain secure and comfortable in their positions as the changes were gradual and these leaders could afford to be ethical, conscientious, and value based, as the competitive pressures were not as intense as they are now. If we take the present scenario, over the last four years, we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of successive corporate scandals and bankers acting as though there is no tomorrow. This has resulted in loss of public confidence on the business leaders and the stakes could not have been higher for the current generation of leaders who not only have to struggle with the market dynamics and rapidly changing recombination among consumers but also have to ensure that they do not violate any regulatory principles.

The Temptation to Cut Corners for Short Term Gains

The key aspect about remaining ethical in this age is that the incentives for unethical behavior are high. The point here is that the refrain about why we should not do the same when everybody is doing the same means that it is easy to be lost in the crowd and follow the herd instead of taking the tough path. Especially when one is faced with so much change that retaining one’s position becomes difficult, the temptation to be unethical is indeed strong. This is the reason why many business leaders in recent times have been caught on the wrong side of the law and ethics as far as their practices are concerned.

Further, in an era of scarcities, survival is determined by whoever has access to resources and not necessarily to whoever is ethical. This means that the temptation to cut corners and strike shady deals and indulge in dubious practices is indeed high. Even for individuals who are caught in the necessities of everyday living, the temptation to be unethical is high. When one extrapolates this trend to whole businesses and economies, the fact that it is difficult to be value based and humane is tough for business leaders as the stakes for them are much higher.

No Matter What, Leadership is Always about the Road Less Traveled

Of course, the key theme of this article is that despite all the reasons and extenuating factors cited above, the point remains that no matter what, leadership is always about the good struggle and the struggle over defining values and principles must not be sacrificed at the altar of expediency. In other words, no matter how high the stakes are and no matter how strong the temptation is, it remains cast in stone that business leaders must not succumb and instead, must follow ethical and value based management.

As mentioned earlier, the good struggle is the struggle that goes on internally within the leaders between the competing urges to be unethical and make short-term profits and the urge to follow the righteous path and reap longer-term rewards. As always, it is better to defer the temptation of short-term gratification and instead, opt for the deeper and more satisfying longer-term rewards. Ultimately, the key element that causes fulfillment for anybody arises from leading an ethical and value based life and especially for leaders, the way out is to take the path less traveled that makes all the difference in the end.


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Leadership