From the Leading in Context Blog, LeadinginContext.com/Blog
Ethics is Contagious
APRIL 16, 2014 1 COMMENT
By Linda Fisher Thornton
I must admit that I can’t take the credit for coming up with the catchy title of this post. A group of attendees at a
recent keynote I delivered came up with it as a way to describe what they had learned. And it makes perfect sense.
Ethics is catching, and leaders set the tone for the ethics of the organization. What would happen if everyone in the
organization followed our lead? Would the organization be more or less ethical? What kind of ethics are people
catching as they work in our organization?
10 Reasons Why Ethics is Contagious:
1. We are social creatures.
2. People tend to “follow the leader.”
3. If their leader is unethical, people may be less likely to report ethical problems.
4. In unethical cultures, people who speak up may be punished, which further entrenches the unethical
5. When people fail to report ethical problems, the problems may increase and become standard practice.
6. In unethical cultures, people who do unethical things may be promoted or rewarded in other ways.
7. If their leader is ethical, people may be more likely to report ethical problems.
8. In a positive ethical culture, people who speak up may be rewarded, which further entrenches the ethical
9. The choices we repeat and reward become the patterns of acceptable behavior in our culture.
10. Whichever case of ethics is spreading in our organizations gains momentum over time. In unethical
cultures, the momentum is toward compromising ethics. In ethical cultures, the momentum is toward
acting based on ethical values.
Which direction are we leading the organization? Organizational ethics can easily can go either way. Since ethics is
so contagious, we need to be sure that we help people catch a positive case of it.
Linda Fisher Thornton is an author, speaker, consultant and adjunct faculty member who helps organizations
Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership™. Her new book is 7 Lenses.