Factors affecting Ethical Choices

When managers are accused of lying, cheating or stealing blame is usually placed on the individual or on the company situation. Most people believe that individuals make ethical choices because of individual integrity which is true, but it is not the whole story. Ethical or unethical business practices usually reflect the values, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior patterns of the organizational culture, thus, ethics help in shaping an organization.

The Manager:

Managers bring specific personal and behavioral traits to the job. Personal needs, family influence and religious background all shape a manager’s value system. Specific personality characteristics such as ego, strength, self confidence, and a strong sense of independence may enable managers to make ethical decisions

One important personal trait is the stage of Moral development that is a simplified version of one model of personal moral development as shown in the exhibit. At the pre-conventional level, individuals are concerned with external rewards and punishments and obey authority to avoid detrimental personal consequences. In an organizational context, this level may be associated with managers who use an autocratic or coercive leadership style, with employees oriented toward dependable accomplishments of specific tasks. At level two called the conventional level, people learn to conform to the expectations of good behavior as defined by colleagues, family, friends and society. Meeting social and interpersonal obligations is important. Work group collaboration is the preferred manner for accomplishment of organizational goals, and managers use a leadership style that encourages interpersonal relationships and cooperation. At the post conventional or principled level, individuals are guided by an internal set of values and standards and will even disobey rules or laws that violate these principles. Internal values become more important than the expectations of significant others.

For example when the USS Indian polis sank after being torpedoed during World War II one Navy pilot disobeyed orders and risked his life to save men who were being picked off by sharks. The pilot was operating from the highest level of moral development in attempting the rescue despite direct order from superiors. When managers operate from this highest level of development they use transformative or several leaderships focusing in the needs of followers and encouraging others to think for themselves and to engage in higher levels of moral reasoning. Employees are empowered and given opportunities for constructive participation in governance of the organization.

The great majority of managers operate at level two. A few have not advanced beyond level one. Only about 20 percent American adults reach the level three stage of moral development, people at level three are able to act in an independent, ethical manner regardless of expectations form others inside or outside the organization. Managers at level three of moral development will make ethical decisions whatever the organization consequences are for them.

One interesting study indicates that most researchers have failed to account for the direct ways in which women view social reality and develop psychologically and have thus consistently classified women as being stuck at lower levels of development. Researcher Carol Gilligan has suggested that the moral domain be enlarged to include responsibility and care in relationships. Women may, in general, perceive moral complexities more astutely than men and moral decisions based on a set of absolute rights and wrongs but on principles of not causing harm to others

One reason why higher levels of ethics are increasingly important is the impact of globalization. Globalization has made ethical issues even more complicated for today’s managers. American managers working in foreign countries need sensitivity and an openness to other systems, as well as the fortitude to resolve difficult issues.

Source: New Era Management

  • Vivekhattangadi

    An excellent and inspiring article! How managers actually operate from this highest level of development needs to be addressed. was the order given by the superiors in USS Indianapolis case, ethical? How could they leave soldiers to be eaten by sharks?