I recently conducted a webinar on what it means to be an ethical leader during a crisis. The participants were engaged, questions were asked, and we focused on practical steps to take, ensuring that the tenets of ethical leadership and crisis management become one. It was great to think about how these characteristics get implemented every day. From the small decisions to the large one, and complex problems that take time to solve, it was nice to show that ethically leading in crisis is possible.
However, after the workshop, when the adrenaline subsided and I was able to reflect on what I presented, I became conflicted: do I always practice ethical leadership when chaos and crisis abounds? For myself, I was trained under the tenets of this leadership style without the name ever being mentioned, so it came naturally to me. BUT, I know that I am not the same person during a state of crisis that I am during calm day. That’s what was conflicting. I’m not sure that I’m always make the best ethical decision during those chaotic times. Let me paint you a picture:
During calm, a problem can be posed to me and I will sit down with the person posing it and talk it out. We’ll go over pros and cons, we’ll review our mission and purpose, we’ll talk about what’s best overall, and then the best possible decision will be made. When I have to make a decision on my own, I review those same areas and do what is best and what aligns with my values and the values of those I serve. Once again, I can walk away knowing that I made the best ethical decision.
Now, during crisis, there are problems flying at me a mile a minute. There’s no time to sit down, talk things out, or write pros and cons; in order to solve the next problem, then the first problem presented to me needs a decision—and fast! That’s when I just go for it and afterwards, when I’ve had time to reflect, I think about whether I made the best, ethical decision possible. For me, my own webinar sparked something in me. How do we make the best ethical decisions during a time of crisis? Let me put this another way: how do we make the best, ethical decisions when there’s no time to critically think?
Luckily, there are answers to this question and it’s all about being proactive and intentional:
- Prepare for the day: One thing I learned long ago was to make my decisions before ever leaving the house. In other words, know your values (what you stand for) before you walk out of the door. When you make a decision, reflect on those values and the values of who you serve.
- Daily check-in with staff: Check in with those you work with daily. It’s so important to talk with members of your team, find out what’s going well, what’s wrong, what’s on their minds, and think about the future. When you regularly talk with your staff and members of your community (where you live, where you work, etc.), it becomes easier to make decisions that affect them.
- Build relationships: So, I’ve never been big on team building exercises and “get to know you” activities, however, they are incredibly beneficial. When you engage in small talk, it has the capacity to turn into something deeper. I make a point to talk to my team in the hallway, on the way to a meeting, or simply call them on the phone and ask how they are doing. Gestures such as these give you insight into a person’s life, personality, and character. I once found out that a former staff member bakes when stressed. So when this person came in with pies (lots of them), I knew to pull that person aside and have a talk, let them talk, and let them know that I was there for them. This also makes it easier to make the best decisions when you know more about those who work with you or for you.
- Continuously reflect: As with any type of leadership, but especially ethical leadership, it’s important to reflect on your day each day. What decisions did you make that day that’s still not sitting well with you? Can you change your decision, and if so, how? Were you transparent when you needed to be? Did you make sound decisions based on legitimate information, or did you make decisions based on hearsay? What went well today and how can you make sure that the next day is even better?
Ethical leadership is a hot topic right now, but don’t get lost in what sounds good. It’s important to know that being this intentional type of leader is challenging and complex. Making sure that we stay mindful, reflective, critically conscious, and that we consistently prepare ourselves to face the day will help make this journey successful.
Keep leading and stay safe,