LEADing Positive Change Video/Email Series
How can we best lead positive change, and inspire others to do so as well? Understanding ethics can be indispensable, but ethics may not be what you think it is. Ethics is NOT just about following rules, it’s about leading lives that we can be proud of, lives that make the world at least a little bit better. This video/email series was created to share essential lessons about how and why we make ethical and unethical decision as people and leaders. Special thanks to EthicsUnwrapped for their generosity in sharing videos and materials.
October 2022: Overconfidence Bias
Do you know someone who made a mistake because they just assumed that they would do what’s right? Have YOU ever done the same?
The “Overconfidence Bias” is our tendency to be more confident in our own abilities than is warranted. We can be overconfident about our character too. Typically, we often believe that we are more ethical than others because we are good people, and “good people do good things.” This can lead us to take shortcuts. Overconfidence can undermine incentive. We may disengage from examining and reflecting deeply on the impact of our actions on others, including those we never see (e.g., consider climate change). Furthermore, we often recognize overconfidence in others, but not in ourselves.
Professors Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel state: “It’s likely that most of us overestimate our ethicality at one point or another. In effect, we are unaware of the gap between how ethical we think we are and how ethical we truly are.”
This month’s 1-minute video is about the Overconfidence Bias. If we wish to be truly ethical people, we must monitor ourselves and our biases. It’s important to notice when we aren’t living up to our own ethical standards and to do something about it.
What can we do to reduce the overconfidence bias?
- An awareness of the overconfidence bias can help us to pause and seriously reflect on the broad potential impact of our decisions.
- Ask yourself: “What would I do if I weren’t sure that this was the right thing to do?”
- When possible, generate reasons for and against enacting a decision before you move too quickly. How could this have a positive or negative impact on everyone who might be affected?
- Try to clearly explain the possible impact of your decisions to a neutral 3rd party who will be honest with you (Note: it can help to consult with those outside of your chain of command).
September 2022: Behavioral Ethics Revisited
As a reminder from the 2021-2022 LEADing Positive Change Series, “Behavioral Ethics” is the study of how and why we make ethical and unethical decisions. People often assume that good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but the reality is much more complicated than that. We all know “good people” who have done bad things.
- Have you seen people negatively impacted by their own biases, and by social or organizational pressures?
- Have YOU been impacted by biases and social or organizational pressures?
This month’s 1-minute video briefly explains the ideas behind the field of Behavioral Ethics. Traditional ethics typically focuses on the question “What’s the right thing to do?”, but behavioral ethics helps us focus on our own motivations, situational factors, biases, and social/organizational pressures. We are often not as rational as we think we are, and an understanding of behavioral ethics can help. If we wish to be truly ethical people, and leaders, we must be aware of when we are, and when we aren’t, living up to our highest ethical standards, and do something about it.
May 2022: Role Morality
Role Morality is the idea that we may do something on behalf of an employer or client that we wouldn’t do if we were acting on our own behalf. We may feel that our role in the company, organization, etc. allows us to act in a way that’s outside of our highest ethical standards. We may feel (sometimes subconsciously) that we have permission to do this because of the role we are playing (e.g., loyal employee).
Have you seen others doing something that they probably wouldn’t do if it weren’t for their role in the organization? Have YOU felt pressure (direct or indirect, internal or external) to do something even when you knew, or should have known, that what you were doing was wrong? It is essential to exercise our own independent ethical judgment, as well as consult with others not in the organizational hierarchy. It can be extremely difficult and stressful to stand up for what you think is right when you think your role calls for something different. However, without using our independent ethical judgement, we may undermine the opportunity to truly create positive change. Leading positive change includes upholding our highest moral standards, regardless of the role we are playing.
This month’s 2-minute video highlights Role Morality.
April 2022: Obedience to Authority
Obedience to Authority is the tendency that people have to try to please those in charge.
Following the instructions of those who are higher in the hierarchy can often be a good thing. However, blind obedience can lead to big problems (e.g., consider what is going on with those following Vladimir Putin in Russia). If positional leaders lack good ethical convictions, obedience to authority can lead to potentially disastrous results.
Have you seen others trying to please those in charge, even when they knew, or should have known, what they were doing was wrong? Have YOU tried to please those in charge, even when you knew, or should have known, that what you were doing was wrong? It is essential to exercise our own independent ethical judgment, as well as consult with others not in the hierarchy, even when it may go against those who are in charge. It can be extremely difficult and stressful to stand up against those higher in the hierarchy. However, by trying to please those in charge without using our independent ethical judgement, we may undermine the opportunity to truly create positive change.
This month’s 2-minute video highlights Obedience to Authority.
March 2022: Groupthink
Groupthink can happen when our desire for group loyalty/harmony results in poor, even unethical, decisions.
This month’s 2-minute video highlights Groupthink. It can be extremely difficult and stressful to stand out from the group. However, by valuing harmony and consensus over independent judgment, we may undermine the opportunity to truly create positive change. When have you observed others (or yourself) going along with a group decision that deep down you knew was wrong? When do you feel the most pressure to go along with the group so you don’t “rock the boat?”
February 2022: Confirmation Bias
The Confirmation Bias is our tendency to seek out information that supports the views we already hold, and this can derail our efforts to be ethical leaders.
This month’s 2-minute video highlights the Confirmation Bias. If we wish to be truly ethical people, we must recognize that we’re often susceptible to interpreting evidence in a way that supports our pre-existing beliefs, expectations, or hypotheses. How can we counteract this bias? We can proactively seek out evidence (from credible sources) that is NOT consistent with our beliefs and theories and to look for any truth in other reasonable beliefs or theories. It can also help to consult with those who have different viewpoints and to allow space for critiques of our own beliefs, especially when we are in a leadership position. It’s important to notice the powerful factors that contribute to when we live up to, or do not live up to, our highest ethical standards, and to do something about it.
January 2022: Growth Mindset & Ethics
Do you believe that good people/leaders do good things and bad people/leaders do bad things? The reality is much more complicated than that. Most of us can quickly think of someone that we consider to be a good person who has done a bad thing. There are many factors (e.g., cognitive biases, social pressures) that impact our choices and our actions. However, we CAN learn to be more ethical. We can each learn and grown as ethical leaders when we apply a “Growth Mindset” to the idea of ethics. Being an ethical leader is a lifelong process.
This month’s 2-minute video highlights the idea of a Growth Mindset. Our ethical skills and abilities CAN be developed. With an ethical growth mindset, we can see our mistakes as a chance to learn, and improve upon, our ability to actively lead positive change.
December 2021: Conformity Bias
The Conformity Bias is the tendency that people have to behave like those around them, rather than using their own independent ethical judgment. This means that sometimes we follow the herd instead of using our own powers of ethical reasoning. At times, going along with what others are doing can be beneficial, but it can also lead us astray. Have you ever gone along with the herd, even when it conflicted with your own beliefs about what’s right? In the past, what has helped you to go against the crowd to stand up for what’s right?
This month’s 1-minute video highlights the Conformity Bias. If we wish to be truly ethical people, we must understand the powerful impact of acting like those around us (for good, or not so good). It’s important to notice the powerful factors that contribute to when we live up to, or do not live up to, our highest ethical standards and to do something about it. Are you more likely to conform when you’re in a new situation or feel isolated? Are you more likely to conform when you feel that you have less power?
November 2021: Rationalization
Rationalizations are excuses that we give ourselves for not living up to our own ethical standards. When we do something wrong, we may convince ourselves that it wasn’t “that bad”, “everyone’s doing it”, or “others have done worse.” We all know people that we consider to be good people who have done bad things. Often, rationalizations are a contributing factor. Robert Prentice, from EthicsUnwrapped, states that: “The human ability to rationalize is perhaps the single most important factor that enables good people to give themselves license to do bad things.”
This month’s 2-minute video highlights several common rationalizations. If we wish to be truly ethical people, we must monitor ourselves and our excuses. It’s important to notice when we aren’t living up to our own ethical standards and to do something about it. If you would like a list of other common rationalizations, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 2021: Values
Understanding our values can be a great start, but identifying our top values is often not enough. VALUEScan be defined as “individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another.” However, as author Craig Johnson writes in his book Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: “... having worthy values doesn't mean that individuals, groups, or organizations will live by these principles.” Furthermore: “Resolving dilemmas... takes more than value clarification; we also need some standards for determining ethical priorities.”
Johnson highlights the idea that we all need well-respected ethical principles to address the value conflicts that inevitably arise, either within ourselves, or across individuals, groups and societies. Would you be OK with your least favorite leader of all time merely identifying and acting upon their values?
This month’s 2-minute video briefly explains Values. What values do you elevate and what do you do when there is a values conflict? Better understanding your ethical focus can help. LEAD offers a brief and free ethics assessment to help you identify your ethical focus. This can help you move beyond mere values clarification.
September 2021: Behavioral Ethics
Behavioral Ethics is the study of how and why we make the ethical and unethical decisions that we do. Some may think that good people do good things and bad people do bad things, but the reality is much more complicated than that.
This month’s 1-minute video briefly explains Behavioral Ethics. Traditional ethics typically focuses on how people ought to behave, but behavioral ethics helps us focus on our own motivations, situational factors, biases, and social/organizational pressures. If we wish to be truly ethical people, we must be aware of when we are, and when we aren’t, living up to our highest ethical standards, and do something about it.
The LEADing Positive Change series is focused on a core value from University Life’s Strategic Plan 2020-2024: “Leadership for Positive Change: We are committed to cultivating leaders who critically examine and understand the potential impact of their decisions and act ethically.”
In LEAD we believe that everyone has the potential to be a leader. It’s essential to understand ethical behavior and to put it into practice in order to lead positive change, whether you hold a leadership position or not. We’re curious… How do YOU discuss ethics and leading positive change in your office? Send us feedback.
Our reputation is one of our most valuable assets, so it’s important to protect it. Actively implementing ethical principles to guide our actions is not only the right thing to do... it’s also good for you, for others, and for society more broadly.
The LEAD Office is committed to providing educational resources for students, faculty, and staff. We are currently working on providing “mini educational videos” for the campus community to utilize. We encourage you to check out our videos below. If there are topics you are interested in learning more about, please contact the LEAD Office at 703-993-4186. If you ideas for mini-videos, please contact Lisa Snyder, Associate Director for Leadership Education and Development at email@example.com.
Everyone Can Be a Leader!
Perspectives on Leadership
Leadership Change Theory
Understanding the 34 Strengths in the Strengths Finder Assessment
Understanding the 4 Domains of Leadership Strength