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The Role of Ethics in 21st Century Organizations

Camuy Heremuru

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In recent years a competitive global environment, the inability of some organizations to maintain a competitive advantage and other pressurizing factors have forced many organizations and their leaders to pursue unethical practices in a bid to remain successful. Can organizations survive within this very complex/competitive era without resorting to unethical practices, and how? This paper provides readers with an understanding of the necessity of the role of ethics in contemporary organizations. It addresses the importance of leadership in establishing and maintaining ethical principles in the organization and culminates with a set of recommendations to which leaders can ascribe in order to ensure that organizations remain ethical.

What is ethics?

Ethics is defined as the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and to act accordingly. According to Rand, a 20th century Russian/American novelist, it is a code of values which guide our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives. " It revolves around others and hence. . . may be understood quite easily when analyzed from the perspective of Matthew 7:12 “do to others what you would have them do to you. "

Old Problem, New People: Judas selling Jesus for 30 Pieces of Silver

In contemporary organizations we see many leaders and followers whose behaviors bear marked resemblance to that of Judas (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13, 18, Acts 1:18). There are Organizations that are deliberately violating the ethical standards that are necessary for the successful functioning of any society. Hoyk and Hersey postulates that within one year Enron, Adelphia, Tyco International, as well as the conviction of the CEO of WorldCom by federal court represents only a small segment of organizations, and people implicated in unethical practices in organizations. An examination of the recent election in Zimbabwe highlights the height of unethical practices that exist even at the helm of organizations governing a country; which has led world government according to Lauren decrying it as an outright charade. . . The urge to succeed at any cost, greed, and selfishness are just a few of the causes of unethical practices; these practices condemn the poor to be even more impoverished, while the rich becomes better off. It should be noted that unethical practices undermine not only the trust of the stakeholders but also the general populace and create an unhealthy organization and a society that is not subject to rules and regulations; the end result anarchy and gargantuan proportions of mistrust in society, which ultimately will shorten the organization life span.

The Call to Act: Inspire to take action

The creation of an ethical organizational culture resides with leaders and followers; leadership by nature demands that leaders be the front runners in establishing an ethical organizational culture. We recognize the mammoth task leaders face in a fast paced society with rocket-like changes even as they fight to maintain a competitive advantage. However as the demise of many organizations becomes a reality due to unethical practices, the onus resides with contemporary leaders to create and sustain ethical organizational cultures even as they compete to survive, because it is the ethical/social stance to take. The issue of ethics is a solemn issue in leadership; its nonexistence can create a vacuum in the organization, fostering a climatic condition in which any action is acceptable. It is important for leaders to create an ethical environment, in doing this; decision making will rely on ethical standards which in the end gives ethical outcome. For such an environment to be created ethics has to be the foundation of the organization's vision, composition and mission. With such a proposition, leaders are forced to cosset themselves in a discourse of collective ethical codes. Such code enables the leaders to act with morals and to foster an organization that relish itself in the laws of right.

The role of an ethical leader is to foster an organization that enables all stakeholders to act responsibly, to be conscientious of their environment and those around them. Johnson postulates that, leaders have a duty to achieve ethical standard through the use of organizational aspirations that must be effective, efficient and excellent. Therefore, the burden is on leaders to captain the ship, take charge and be in charge. The premise is that ethical leadership and ethical principles begins at the top of the organization then spreads throughout. Leaders should not assume that employees intuitively know and will comply with ethical principles set out by the organization. It becomes the leader's responsibility to ensure that ethical practices are modeled as well as communicated orally. . . training employees on ethical issues should be mandatory. Leaders can foster an ethical environment by employing what I refer to as critical factors:

Critical Factor One: Vision

A clear and concise vision that incorporates ethical principle set the foundation for all stakeholders to realize exactly what the organization stands for. . .

Critical Factor Two: Open Communication

A channel of communication in which leaders and followers feel at ease in discussing or examining behaviors or issues that may “in question. " This promotes trust and confidence in the organizational efforts.

Critical Factor Three: Ethical Team

Creating a team that looks out for unethical action: This team is responsible for identifying and addressing ethical problems confronting the organization. They craft an environment in which difficult ethical issues can be discussed and corrective measures put in place. This should allow stakeholders to have trust/confidence in promoting the organizational values.


In light of recent unearthing of unethical practices in many organizations, contemporary organizations are now faced with a serious problem. We are now faced with the challenge of how to combat the epidemic of unethical behavior in our organizations. The role of ethics in the 21st Century is integral in that, all organizations need a firm foundation to stand on, and a base that is rooted in an ethical framework, which when tested can survive. It becomes the responsibility of leadership to consider ethics as part of their organization dynamics. It is this move that will enable the organization to set itself apart from the predecessors that sunk through the times of unethical confronts. The price we pay for poor ethics has eroded the very fabric of our society as well as our organizational culture, producing mistrust and chaos. It becomes imperative that leaders promote an organizational culture that values/fosters ethics. Commitment to ethics is the definitive factor that will create a successful lasting organization.


Cashman, K. , What Exactly Is Ethics? Retrieved 7 July 2008,

Ciulla, J. B. (2004), Ethics the Heart of Leadership 2nd Edition, Praeger Publishers. West Port, CT.

Johnson, K. W. The Role of Leadership in Organizational Integrity, and Five Modes of Ethical Leadership, Retrieved 18 July 2008, of Ethical Leadership July 01. pdf.

Sergeant First Class Camuy Guama Heremuru is an Active Duty Army Sergeant stationed in Providence, Rhode Island. He is currently assigned to the 1st Brigade Military Intelligence unit. He is a second year Doctoral student at Regent University; his area of specialty is Strategic Leadership.


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