Ethical Leadership – are you humble enough for it?

Posted by on May 28, 2018 in Authenticity, Ethical Leadership, leadership | 1 comment

An abridged version of this article was originally published in Hilborn Charity eNEWs.

Transactional Leadership, Autocratic Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Authentic Leadership, Situational Leadership… The list could go on. There are probably as many leadership styles as there are leaders.

I believe our sector would benefit greatly if we all intentionally pursued the concept of Ethical Leadership.

Introducing Mpumi Nobiva!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet Mpumi Nobiva at a conference. Nobiva is an AIDS orphan who was living in South Africa. Nobiva lived in extreme poverty and was smart enough, and lucky enough, to get into Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for girls – she excelled. Nobiva realized her dream to go to University in the United States and now she is a force for good and truth.

When Nobiva came on stage and humbly asked if her outfit met expectations I was charmed. Her strong and powerful presence combined with grace and humility is enviable. When she passionately said: “Oprah Winfrey didn’t change my life. It was my mother and my grandmother who made sure I was who I was for the day that Oprah walked into my life.” I was moved to tears. So far I was very entertained but wasn’t expecting much beyond that.

It was when this 25 year old dynamo started talking about Ethical Leadership I leaned forward and pulled out my notebook. Woah! I had never heard leadership described as ethical. What does that mean? How can I get some? Am I an ethical leader?

Nobiva described Ethical Leadership as doing the right thing even if it goes unnoticed. The concept reminded me of a book I had read last year by Adam Grant called Give and Take.

In Give and Take Grant talks about drivers for success and three specific professional profiles: Matchers, Takers and Givers. The book is full of case studies from the corporate world. Matchers will do something for you if you do something for them. Takers….well… they take and leave you in the dust. Giver’s lift everyone around them up. Guess which profile ended up with the most lucrative and satisfying career? While the concept of ethical leadership is not mentioned in the book I believe it is the Giver’s as defined by Grant that definitely fit Nobiva’s description of Ethical Leaders.

Fast forward to twenty-four hours ago when Amazon finally delivered James Comey’s autobiography A Higher Loyalty to my doorstep. I bought the book after I saw Comey interviewed on The Late Show. It was a good interview. Entertaining again. I thought it was interesting that the FBI Director who had been fired by the current US Present, wrote a book. Like many, I was intrigued by the potential for salacious stories of golden showers.

The interview started out with an awkward moment of silence when Cobert asks for loyalty, then there was a flourishing presentation of paper cups and Pinot Noir with a toast to the truth – inside jokes for those who have read the book. I was entertained.

It was three minutes into the interview when Comey revealed why he was sharing his story. “To offer people like you and me a view of what Ethical Leadership looks like.” BAM! There it was again. So just three minutes in I asked my Amazon Prime Whiz of a husband to order that book. Thirty seconds later the book was on its way.

As soon as it arrived I devoured it. There is one small section about what it was like to work as FBI Director in the Whitehouse in 2017/18. The rest is a fascinating story of integrity during a long career facing extraordinary circumstances under extreme pressure.

Having Confidence to be Humble

Peppered throughout the book Comey talks about having the confidence to be humble. He offers us examples of leaders he has come across who lead with humility. Leaders who are confident enough to know that asking questions and taking time to think is not a sign of weakness.

In the book, Comey outlines his vision for the FBI. He wanted the agency to serve as the government’s premier leadership factory. Thereby providing his staff with the opportunity to have high profile second careers. The FBI would also be rigorously non partisan and accountable to the people of the United States of America. He would teach everyone that great leaders are:

  1. People of integrity and decency
  2. Confident enough to be humble
  3. Both kind and tough
  4. Transparent
  5. Seek meaning in work
  6. Know that what they say is important, and what they DO is far more important.

In addition, Comey had five expectations for every employee:

  1. Find joy in their work
  2. Treat all people with respect and dignity
  3. Protect the institution’s reservoir of trust and credibility
  4. Expect to work hard because you owe it to the taxpayer
  5. Fight for balance in their lives

What does this idea of ethical leadership have to do with the charitable sector? Well…just…EVERYTHING!

We talk and talk and talk about the leadership gap, staff turnover and burn out We need to have more conversations about the concrete tools or tactics to addressing these systemic problems. What would happen if more of us strive to be Ethical Leaders? What if more of us live and work with intention and commitment to the following:

  • Build up the people around us. Enter every conversation from a position of service. Thinking or frankly saying out loud to colleague: “How can I make your job easier today. What can I do for you?
  • Be fiercely loyal to our donors and beneficiaries. As development professionals our truth must be serving the mission of our organization by advocating fiercely for donors. If Comey can do it for tax payers amidst an extraordinary and volatile election and not succumb to pressure to choose a side, surely we can do the same when confronted with challenges within our organizations. That is what being “donor centered” is all about!
  • Celebrate and actively support the success of others. It is hard to stick your neck out with a job application or a conference session submission and be passed by, only to watch your colleagues soar. When that happens give yourself a small private pity party, then check your ego and congratulate your colleagues on their win. Let’s embrace confidence combined with humility so that we can truly support the success of others.

When I think about Ethical Leaders in my professional sphere, there is one person who comes to mind for me immediately. Paul Nazareth is that person. Paul’s personal mission is actually to: “Promote purposeful passionate people to help them reach professional and personal potential while enjoying life to the fullest.” And he is serious about it. I realize that when Paul looks at you intensely, leans in and says: “How can I help you? What do you want to achieve?” it can seem a little creepy. That’s just because we are not used to altruist sincere networking like that.

Paul truly wants to link people who might be able to build each other up. I love that about him. He even has his own annual Golden Crab Gratitude awards for people who have had a positive impact on his life.

I believe Paul is an ethical leader and our sector we would be well served if we all try harder to be like him. (#belikePaul?)

Can you think of someone who has impacted your life who demonstrates Ethical Leadership? Please share. Let’s raise the bar for everyone. Let’s close the leadership gap.

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1 Comment

  1. I would add to Nobiva’s point that, in addition to always striving to do what is right, ethical leaders seek to do what is least bad when bad options are the only options.

    Here’s my favorite ethics quote: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” — Mark Twain

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