Dec 29

Caring Person AND Caring Manager!

Erik G. Hansen
Erik G. Hansen is a full-time researcher at TUM Business School, Institute for Information, Organization and Management (Prof. Dr. Ralf Reichwald) in Munich, Germany

During my research as a PhD interested in the intersection of corporate responsibility (CR) and leadership, I also came amongst a research stream labeled “ethical leadership”. One of the most impressive papers of that stream that I red has been published by Linda K. Treviño and colleagues in California Management Review in 2000 titled “Moral Person and Moral Manager” (Treviño has published on this topic more than 20 years starting at least in the early 1980s). The basic message of the paper is that ethical leadership requires both the moral person and the moral manager – though linked to each other, the two aspects describe two entirely different things.

Moral person describes the personal traits, principles and skills of the individual leader. Such traits are usually linked to ethical behaviors, because such leaders want to do the right thing, are open and show concern for other people. Their decision-making is based on ethical decision rules such as the golden rule, holds to values, is objective and fair and also concerns for society.

All these facets of the moral person are of utmost importance for integrity of top-level and other executives. However, as Treviño and colleagues have analyzed, this does not guarantee a reputation for ethical leadership, because few other organizational members personally interact with the executive. Accordingly, though the moral person embodies ethical virtue, the majority of people may still perceive an executive as an “ethical neutral” (i.e. a person that does not consider ethics to be important). However, as executives are role models, the perception is most important and it is strongly determined by what Treviño and colleagues call the moral manager.

The role of the moral manager is to make ethics a visible and integrated part of an organization and thus of organizational culture. Three issues are important. First, moral managers need not only to act as role model for ethical behavior, but they need to show visible action. One example is the CEO using economy class flights in times of economic downturn, or, where possible, switching to more environmental-friendlier modes of transport. Second, moral managers communicate about the value of ethics and of values such as love, respect and responsibility. Formal and informal speeches as well as meetings are important occasions for such. Consider, for instance, the former CEO of BP, Lord Browne, and his famous 1997 speech at Stanford University about the responsibility of oil corporations to combat climate change (the speech is documented in the Society for Organizational Learning SoL’s online journal “Reflections”).

Finally, in order to more strongly motivate others to adapt such ethical leadership, moral managers infuse ethics into formal mechanisms such as values statements, systems of reward and discipline, and executive development programs. For example, some innovate companies evaluate leaders using a more holistic evaluation using a two-dimensional matrix consisting of an economic and a behavioral (or cultural) dimension: the latter behavioral dimensions then allows for evaluation of the (positive or negative) behavior used to achieve the economic goals. Some companies also make CR performance (as derived from social screening agencies) part of the annual bonus of employees. As Nicola Pless and Ralf Schneider describe in their 2006 article “Towards developing responsible global leaders: The Ulysses experience”, PriceWaterhouseCoopers sends top talents several weeks into collaborative social projects in underdeveloped nations aiming at personal development with regard to sustainability and diversity.

The distinction of “person” and “manager” makes us understand that it is not enough to be an individual driven by principles of care and engaging in ethical decision-making. Caring leadership also requires managers to show visible action, communicate about the value of care and to hardwire care into the organization’s policies and instruments and, more general, into the organization’s formal systems. A toolbox for organizations to do just that is presented in the “CSR Leadership Study” by Erik Hansen and Ralf Reichwald, a study executed at Technische Universität München, School of Management at the Institute of Information, Organisation and Management. I will present the study in more detail in the next blog entry.

At this point, I cannot stop thinking about my personal experiences within the last decade, both in private and organizational contexts. Several years ago when I was thinking more thoroughly on issues of care and responsibility, this mostly remained an internal, cognitive process – more often than not inspired by great literature such as from Erich Fromm, Fritjof Capra and Alain de Botton – that, however, at best resulted in changes in some of my behaviors (e.g., buying decisions).

Yet, I have more and more realized that I do not feel satisfied with my impact with these personal (and mostly silent) changes because one person cannot change the world (it needs at least a few!). I wanted to engage in more visible action. Accordingly, I have increasingly integrated aspects of care, ethics, and values into casual talks with friends and also colleagues, but also into my lectures and other formal occasions. With shyness at the beginning, I developed such talks ever more naturally, making me feel somewhat more consistent with my inner self. A good example is a recent discussion with a friend about the decision for a mobile phone provider, which is usually dominated by costs and service quality, but could – as I suggested – also integrate aspects of Corporate Responsibility performance of the provider. In the actual case, I suggested to choose the more expensive provider because,  in its role as an environmental leader, it successfully operates the entire business with renewable energies . My friend was quite surprised about such “queer” criteria.

My “visual actions” have also had impact on others, but not only through my function of “broadcasting” (or preaching) of values to the crowd:

I realized that many people already share similar thoughts and feelings of care and ethics but – like me before – keep them locked away.

Once brought to the table, I have often experienced that people are very much relieved by finding a partner to talk straight to and to be not the only one with a sense of feelings and values, such as care. Moreover, I experience that very strong networks, collaborations, and even friendships develop based on such confessions. An organization that makes care and ethics an integral part of the formal and informal organization, so I believe, has a fair enough chance to unlock such potentials from their managers and other employees.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 at 21:24 and is filed under Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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