As a leader, your real struggle isn’t a lack of knowledge or uncertainty. No, your real struggle is the overriding need to reinvent your company fast enough to cope with evolving technologies, demographic changes, scientific breakthroughs, heated competition and seismic shifts in purchasing trends.
Engulfed by this struggle, you, as many other leaders become consumed, unconsciously neglecting your values and ethics. When values and ethics are left unaddressed, they become inconsequential.
When values and ethics become irrelevant, one result is that “us” disappears, and “me” moves to the front of the line in the organization. Compassion slips, empathy decreases, and loyalty becomes depleted.
“What’s in it for me,” becomes the dominant banter. Contributing to this culture may be the leader might also be asking the same question. Selfishness abounds when there is no presence of ethics or values.
Values and ethics are subjective. They only exist when they are believed and spoken. To exist, values and ethics need to be part of the shared lexicon of the company. They are collective experiences that push against the “I” and open the “we.”
The gap between the theory and the practice of ethics and values is often massive. In most companies, values and ethics exist only as mythifications.
As a leader, ask yourself how frequently core values and ethics are talked about in your meetings, break-rooms or break-spaces, on your desk-monitor, on the phone, and in your office with your door shut? What does your answer tell you about how values and ethics live for you and your company?
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Speech is power: Speech is to persuade, to convince, to compel.” As a leader, how often do you “speak, persuade, convince and compel” for values and ethics?
THE COST – THE LOSS OF THE COUNTERBALANCE
People in a company unconsciously drive out ethics and values when they’re under tension = which they always are. You need the tension to produce the energy to achieve and accomplish. Without tension, nothin happens.
Tension, overtly or covertly, is ultimately generated by leadership: “Improve performance. Do more with less. Capture greater market share. Focus on boosting EBIDTA another one-point-five.” This kind of tension gets much heavier and thicker when ethics and values are not present to counterbalance the pressure of the tension.
When values and ethics are depleted, two justifications are always heard: “We’re doing it for the company’s best interest.” The other unspoken justification is, “No one but us will find out.” The first is spoken to relieve people of responsibility. The second is spoken so people have an excuse for being unethical.
When these kinds of conversations, shame, guilt, and fault also arise. And when shame, guilt, and fault thrive in the culture, values and ethics become worthless. Without ethics and values being present, business becomes all about the numbers, and "me first." Benevolence, empathy, humanity, contribution, and team-first become ghosts.
You as the leader, and the people who work for you, are constantly bombarded by fraud, deceit, and greed. It grates on people, eventually rubbing them raw. The lack of authenticity and honesty diminishes tolerance for others, inhibits kindness and therefore damages work relations. What counterbalances these undermining powers of fraud, deceit, and avarice? Values and ethics. Values and ethics are poor soil to grow duplicity, deceit, and greed.
In my experience and those of my colleagues, when a company lacks ethics and values, it ultimately results in employees exiting, along with customers. The loss to the company is money, time and knowledge. Something about values and ethics directly enhances loyalty, honesty, collaboration, and commitment.
I’ve worked with many leaders in the healthcare industry over my “three-score and ten,” including those in hospitals, hospital systems, IPAs, DSOs, individual and group dental, medical and naturopathic practices. I’ve worked with leaders in physical therapy, podiatry, chiropractic, medicine, dentistry and naturopathy. I’ve also worked with the leaders of clearinghouses, insurance companies, AI firms, marketing companies and suppliers. I think I have a reliable sample, both size and range, and enough years of experience to speak about leaders in the three trillion dollars plus healthcare industry.
Are we closing the care gap? Are we reducing disease and morbidity? Are we getting and keeping people healthier? It seems that leaders in the healthcare industry; the patients' health should be their top value.
In terms of ethics, is what you are doing, preventing disease and reducing the severity of chronic conditions? What are you measuring? Because in business and in life, you get what you measure.
Are you asking the ethical question – “Are we improving the health of the people we serve?
So, I ask you as the leader to consider the significance of values and ethics in your company. Where do they sit on your leadership’s priority list? Do values and ethics have a voice in who is hired and who is fired? Do values and ethics have veto power over strategic decisions? Do values and ethics have real weight and clout? If they are not important to you as the leader, they won’t be important to anyone else.
Take a quick look - as a leader, when was the last time you asked questions like:
“Where are we going as a company?”
“Who gains, who loses and by which structures of power?”
“Is our future development desirable?”
“Are our actions in lock-step with our values?”
“Does what we do make a positive difference in peoples’ lives – inside and outside of the company?”
“Is what we’re doing ethical?”
“Are we undercutting or damaging others?"
"Are we improving the health of our patients? How do we know?”
Soul-searching questions which push your leadership straight into ethics and values.
A Recommendation - ask these kinds of questions for a month. Make it part (not all, part) of your interactions with people. I think you’ll be amazed by the impact values and ethics will have on the people and the company when you bring values and ethics present.