Simply, climate is defined as “the usual or most widespread mood or conditions in a place” and in depth, as “the circumstances, conditions, or objects by which one is surrounded”. (Merriam-Webster, n.d). This implies that the climate in a business or organization is created by everyone in the organization i.e. climate depends on the people making up the organization. (PSY 533, 2016). Does this mean leadership plays a minor role in issues affecting organizational and/or ethical climate?
The answer is No. In fact, everyday leadership style is said to be the most important determinant of organizational climate due to the influence factor of leadership: it has a powerful influence on the expectations and behaviors of everyone in an organization. (The Kennedy Group, n.d). Although they are mostly lumped together or used interchangeably, ethical climate is only a small slice of organizational climate but has the power to make or break it (PSY 533, 2016). So, how can we as leaders ensure the strongest positive ethical climate in our organizations?
One might be tempted to say by having good morals, a leader can ensure a morally-sound climate in an organization. While this is true, it requires more than just having good morals. There are other practical steps required to ensure that the desired effect is achieved; a few of them are outlined below.
- Organizational Values – most times, unethical behaviors are from what employees hope to gain in the short-term or instant gratification. Organizational leaders must be consistent in reiterating the benefits of long term goals vs short term gains. (Johnson, n.d)
- Role modeling – As mentioned above, leadership comes with a great deal of power that influences others mostly due to the authority that comes by default but it could also come from admiration and trust if leadership exhibits admirable qualities or behaviors that are morally sound. To show commitment to the ethics, leaders must show that they are ethical themselves.
- Policies – Create and ensure a high visibility of policies such as Codes of Conduct, etc. that outline expected behaviors and consequences of unethical behaviors.
- Anonymous Feedback System – Organizations who wish to enforce ethical behaviors must establish avenues through which they can receive feedback. Such avenues include a Complaints Hotline, Whistle-blowing Policies, Employee Assistance Programs, etc. For privacy and confidentiality, feedback should be given anonymously; this would probably make employees more comfortable.
- Communication – effective communication from leadership helps to ensure transparency in business processes, performance evaluation, rewards and recognition. When there is transparency, it builds trust and credibility among the employees. Trust will ensure loyalty and motivate employees to behave ethically.
In conclusion, creating and maintaining an ethical climate is not just limited to leadership; it is a two-way process between a leader and his followers. It is important that leaders model the behaviors they would like to see within their organizations as this is the only way their followers can know what values and culture are important and which are not. When leaders’ behaviors match the values and culture of the organization, the foundation for an ethical climate is not established. (PSY 533, 2016)
- Johnson, C. (n.d). CHAPTER 9: CREATING AN ETHICAL ORGANIZATION CLIMATE. Retrieved from http://jcuethicalleadership.weebly.com/chapter-9—creating-an-ethical-organizational-climate.html
- Kennedy Group (n.d). Culture vs. Climate. Retrieved from http://thekennedygroup.com/_pdfs/culture_vs_climate.pdf
- Penn State University (2016). PSY 533. Lesson 13: Ethical Climate. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390/pages/l13-leaderships-role-in-ethical-climate?module_item_id=20678834