The key to ethics is to do no harm. When someone is in a leadership position s/he has responsibility to not only ensure that this occurs but also to deal with issues that might threaten their environment.
There are several things that affect the ethics of an individual or organization:
- Values - These are the things that we hold dear. They are ideas that we want to protect and are usually shared by a group, community or country. For example, in Canada, we value freedom and honour those who have fought for our country in order to allow us to live in freedom.
- Regulatory bodies - Most professions have a Code of Ethics that lays out not only the things that are important to persevere and promote, but also the process for dealing with ethical issues that arise.
- Leadership - When those who are in charge of an environment believe in and communicate their values to employees and others, there is a better chance that the organization will be ethical. For example, if there is a zero tolerance for abuse within the system and consequences if this occurs, those who are involved will benefit.
- Business policies - Often written manuals reflect the fact that thought and passion by leaders have been given a priority and that those who are in the business are expected to follow the policies.
- Sub-groups - Sometimes people form together because they have a set of common principles that they hold and want to promote. They might, for example, not match those of others around them but they may be willing to fight for them because they so strongly believe in them. For example, unions usually have a very strong set of ethics and even if they are not the same as the employer, they will do their best to ensure that the ethics are recognized.
- Process - Many times there are people or sub-groups who hold different values and a resolution is required in order for everyone to be able to live and work together in harmony. It is therefore also important that there is an ethical process in place that people can follow with respect in their quest to have problems dealt with in a healthy manner. These are sometimes referred to as rules but the important thing to remember is that unless everyone accepts and is willing to participate using the rules, there is a chance that even further problems will develop.