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Five ethical deficits that need to be addressed

With the business world and business schools grappling with how to get a handle on ethics, Toronto-based consultant Patrick O'Neill highlights five deficits that have to be addressed, in his Extraordinary Conversations e-newsletter:

Deficit of reflective practice

As the pace of work speeds up, a significant imbalance has arisen between reflection and action in many organizations. The value placed on action also far outweighs critical thinking. "Strategic decisions are being made on the fly, divorced from an examination of the issues involved, including ethical considerations. While there have been significant inroads made in governance and risk management, especially in the last decade, much damage has resulted from expediency," he writes.

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Deficit of character development

Leadership is an initiation into character and courage because, he says, "it requires people to take on extraordinary responsibilities." Our society currently rewards and develops talent, but less recognition and fewer resources are allocated to character development. Yet, ethical behaviour requires both. To help, he argues that business reporting should include stories of conflicts, dilemmas and issues handled ethically. We could use lessons on groups or leaders who do the right thing with courage and integrity.

Deficit of respect

In more than 200 conflicts that he has been hired to mediate, the core issues that Mr. O'Neill found usually included some form of abusive behaviour - an example of the erosion of respect in the workplace. Bullying in the workplace is common. Corporate leaders treat shareholders with little respect. Ethical treatment, he says, is a fundamental human right, and organizations must ensure it.

Deficit on right use of power

The increasing abuse of power in organizations leads to demoralization, employee absence and attrition, occupational health and safety issues, and litigation. "It costs a lot of money when productivity is impaired in this way," he says. "Providing leaders with a basic understanding of the positive and ill effects of using and abusing power and helping them come to terms with their own relationship to power would be a significant contribution to ethics education."

Deficit of mentoring

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Mentoring has not been used to the extent it could for teaching ethical leadership, he says. Instead, the focus has been on coaching technical performance, rather than the overall development of the person. "This gap has contributed to the decline of ethical leadership in business, community and institutional life," he asserts.


Scare yourself

Do something at least once a year that scares you. George Torok, motivational speaker,

Put those FAQs up front

A FAQ - frequently asked questions - page was de rigueur in the early days of the Web. But, consultant Jeff Sexton asks, if those questions are so vital, why aren't they answered directly on the regular pages of your Web site, when the customer is first encountering your company and its products? "Why would you possibly be content with hiding the answers to your prospective customers' questions in an FAQ page? Are you trying to weed out all but the most determined of customers?"

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A valuable interview question

Here's a favourite interview question from Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation: "What's your favourite thing to do on your free time?" It often reveals what the job candidate values. The New York Times

Pause for effect

As you watch U.S. President Barack Obama speak, you'll quickly notice how frequently - and calmly - he pauses during a talk. Speech coach Sims Wyeth urges you to emulate that in your own presentations - a pause lets the audience catch up with you and allows your words to resonate.

Social network sites to suit you

Consultant Paul Chaney says the three most popular social network sites for business are: LinkedIn, which is like your business suit, expected and lending you professional credibility; Facebook, which is your business-casual attire, allowing others to see your professional and personal side; and Twitter, which is like a cocktail hour, a place you go to casually and informally interact with potentially thousands of others.

Google your calculations

If you have a quick calculation, instead of using a hand calculator or your computer's calculator, put the numbers into a Google search box and you'll get an answer lickety-split. Use the +, -, *, / symbols and parentheses to do a simple equation. Leo Babauta


It has become ritualistic for leaders to encourage forthrightness among staff by insisting "there are no stupid questions." But on the Fast Company leadership blog, consultant Cynthia (Cy) Wakeman insists there are stupid questions, and gives these characteristics:

  • There is really no answer to the question.
  • Even if you could speculate and offer an answer, that answer would add no value to the situation.
  • The question implies blame.
  • The question flies in the face of personal accountability.

The question is focused on people who are outside the control of the leader fielding the question.

"To spend a single second of thought or action on such questions is a complete waste of resources, period," she writes.

Often, these stupid questions begin with "why," "who," or "when," and are applied to human behaviour rather than seeking information about a process or a logistical detail of a plan.

When you start to slip into asking a stupid question, she suggests a rewording that may seem difficult to assimilate initially but which she illuminates with an example.

First, change every "why," "who," or "when" to either a "how" or "'what." Then follow with the words "can I" and, finally, end the smarter question with some action words such as "do" or "help."

So, "Why do things keep changing?" becomes "How can I drive change?"


Startups need cash, and usually that money comes from friends and family. But Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, wife of Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Yogurt, warns that accepting such financial assistance can fray or even sever family relationships.

When the business is funded by relatives, you may lose the carefree family holiday gathering or the light-hearted phone chat with Mom and Dad. "Anxious and exhausted, entrepreneurs yearn for the solace and support usually provided by families: a sheltered place to lay their weary heads. But relationships change whenever money enters the picture," she writes in Inc.

Beyond their fears, you also carry the guilt that if the business goes under you'll take your relatives' money with it. Ironically, she notes, that's why venture capitalists often prefer that friends and families invest before they consider a deal.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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