Ethical and moral tests to help leaders stay on track

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Happy societies are dependent on the degree of ethics present. The more a society tolerates corruption, the more unhappy it is (1).  Societies with a good ethical base have leaders and systems that promote ethical behaviour and therefore can achieve greater happiness. Morals and ethics are related to the standard of behaviour that is allowed within a particular group or by a particular person and there are subtle differences between them. Morals relate to shared or individual beliefs and are more of a gut reaction. Ethics refer more to the academic study and systemic ways of analysing these decisions. At the practical level, morals and ethics show up through the decisions we make. Leaders in particular make a lot of decisions, so it becomes imperative for leaders to bring conscious awareness to how ethical and what the impact of their behaviour is.

Sometimes it can be difficult to always act in an ethical way when we are faced with dilemmas that pit one ethical value against another because then a conscious prioritisation is required. For example, does one steal to save a persons life, or not steal and the person dies? In this instance, with spirituality as the overarching goal, human value would be prioritised over non-stealing, provided that no other option is available (because a spiritual orientation prioritises caring for each other’s existence). Sometimes, however, we are faced with what is called a “false dilemma”. Rather than needing to choose between two ethical values, we may actually be unconsciously choosing between an ethical value vs competition/greed, or ethics vs saving face, or ethics vs some social value or pressure. In this case it can be like being pressured to take the unethical path.

Moral and ethical tests come in different forms but always delve into our decisions. One way of measuring morals and ethics in society is to assess things like to what extent are bribes acceptable? Or to lie to get out of a parking fine? And so forth. This tells us something about the average accepted levels of corruption and ethics in the society itself. Another way is to test particular values against each other. For example, a moral sporting test asks groups and individuals to consider scenarios that prioritise winning (ie competition) against honest and fair play. If the ball was in but the referee called it out to my advantage, would I say something? This then enables organisations to assess the degree of morality within the sport and how to improve sportsmanship. 

Morals can also be tested by looking at Kohlberg’s moral development levels as per the image shown below.

Kohlberg’s Model of Moral Development [ by CMG Lee.]

Preconventional morality is self oriented based on aversions and desires (e.g will I get caught?, what feels good to do?). Conventional morality is a rules based approach to thinking about others (do it for me, do your duty), whilst post conventional morality is driven by deep social and universal values (e.g. treating others as you wish to be treated). By developing scenarios or looking at real life examples in your life, you can see what type of moral reasoning you are using in your decision making and the levels give ideas on how to take your moral reasoning to the next level of development.

Finally, we can use personal “ethical tests” that ask reflective questions of the situation, prior to making a decision. These help leaders determine the right course of action and consciously prioritise values: 
The golden rule – Asking yourself if you would wish others do the same thing to you that you are thinking to do to others.The front page test – imagining how you would feel if your actions were reported on the front page of the national newspaper, or on the television news and what the reputational impact would be.The What-if-everybody-did-this test – What kind of society would be created if everybody did this? Is it the kind of society you would want to live in?The consequences test – thinking through the possible bad consequences such as damage to relationships, loss of self respect, and regret.
Ethics and morals can be tested in a variety of ways and being aware of this helps us make better decisions for the benefit of all. 

(1). Transparency international. 20-09-2016 Anti-corruption and happiness go hand in hand

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