Over the past few years, the U.S. has encountered some of the most daunting crises in generations. The harsh reality is that millions of Americans continue to be affected by a novel pandemic and its ensuing economic instability.
National business leaders today are faced with helping their organizations navigate these challenging times. Concurrently, customers, employees, communities, and shareholders are also demanding that business leaders hold themselves to the highest ethical standards in their decision-making and actions regarding critical issues.
In our experience with corporations and other organizations across the country, we have long advocated for a thoughtful and practical framework for ethical leadership and guidance to navigate the issues that businesses, government agencies, and other organizations have faced and are now facing.
Let’s be clear: every business must now address ethical leadership head‑on with their employees, customers, shareholders, and in their communities in which they operate. This is because ethical leadership ultimately establishes an organization’s credibility in the community.
And this is not a passing trend. The impetus behind embedding greater standards in ethical leadership within the business community is here to stay.
Ethical leadership also sets a standard for establishing trust and reinforcing accountability through the confidence of stakeholders. And although the business world has long recognized and rewarded financial success, it is beginning to see the value of ethical leadership for both businesses and to society at large – It enables businesses to build and sustain the success garnered through critical partnerships and collaborations.
The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, an organization committed to the Principles of Ethical Leadership, which Bill McGowan exemplified as the founder and CEO of MCI Communications and other organizations, recently partnered with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to conduct a national search for a CEO who best embodied these Principles of Ethical Leadership. They went on to present their first-ever ‘Ethical Leader of the Year Award’ at SHRM 2022, in front of more than 15,000 human resources (HR) professionals and bestowed it to Prudential Financial’s longstanding CEO, Charles Lowrey, himself exemplifying today fundamental McGowan Fund principles such as empathy, accountability, character and integrity; traits to be sought after throughout the workforce, from recruitment and hiring processes, to the Executive Office in reporting to its stakeholders.
In partnership with 10 universities over the past 12 years, the McGowan Fund, through its Fellows Program, has convincingly demonstrated how future business leaders can and should become deeply engaged with and evolve their approach to decision-making in their MBA and other business leadership programs by immersion in the Principles of Ethical Leadership. The experience has provided hard evidence across the nation about the value students have seen in having a full framework for ethical leadership in place as they develop into future business leaders.
The use of “experiential learning”, “immersion” and other techniques in applying ethical principles to truly engage with and motivate students, guided by the ethical leadership framework, has been proven to cultivate sound ethical leadership traits. SHRM in turn conducts extensive, in-depth research each year, surveying its 300,000-plus HR and business executive members, and carries out similar studies of thousands of employees and external stakeholders. The evidence of the demanding new expectations of boards of directors, employees, customers, shareholders, and communities for leaders who are committed to ethical leadership is especially compelling.
We know this to be a very good thing. These principles are right to expect from business leaders at all levels. As John F. Kennedy once said, “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.”
We encourage MBA and business leadership programs to move toward embedding Principles of Ethical Leadership so too in their content and leadership curricula, in response to the rising expectations and standards to which businesses are held in the modern age.
We believe now is the time for business schools to acknowledge the elevated expectations of their future employers, their stakeholders and of those who demonstrate exemplary ethical leadership.
In this vein, the Ethical Leader of the Year Award has set a replicable precedent to highlight 2022-era American business leaders and role models; CEOs “walking the talk” of the today-critical traits comprising ethical leadership.
Leo Denault is CEO of Entergy
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. is President of Society for Human Resource Management