Why doing what’s right is never as easy it looks

No one says being an ethical leader is easy. By comparison making sure the compliance boxes are all ticked is a breeze. Few ethical dilemmas come in a neat package for fast resolution. Two high profile ones show how problematic the role can be.

cliggConsider the challenge facing Liberal Democrats’ leader Nick Clegg. He is wrestling with the suspension of the deputy Chairman of his party Lord Rennard. On the one hand Rennard says follow your own rules in dealing with me, and if you don’t I’ll sue.

This is similar to an employee taking a company to an industrial tribunal for failing to stick to its declared procedures for wrongful dismissal. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of what the employee did, the employer may still be penalised.

On the other hand, an independent investigation concluded Rennard behaved towards party members of the opposite sex in an unacceptable way. He should offer an apology said the enquiry, despite the absence of sexual wrong doing.

The man is reluctant to do so since not only does this seem an admission of guilt, this makes him vulnerable to future complaints, real or imagined. Without doubt his decision stems from legal advice. This is unacceptable to Clegg.

Roger Steare’s method for dealing with ethical dilemmas asks five questions about what is the RIGHT thing to do:

  • What are the rules?
  • Are we acting with integrity?
  • What is this good for?
  • Who could we harm?
  • What is the Truth?

From the leader’s standpoint the rules exist and why Clegg chooses not to follow them remains unclear. An absence of transparency adds to the ethical confusion.

Whether Clegg is acting with integrity is up for debate. The benefits of suspension seem about the image of the party–showing it does not tolerate inappropriate behaviour, and respecting the hurt feelings of those on the receiving end of it.

Who might be harmed by suspending or not suspending the Deputy Chairman is a harder question? Who is involved? Apart from Rennard, the impact will be felt by those affected by his past conduct and of course the Lib Dem party as a whole.

Which of them demands the greatest consideration, one individual or many?

What is the truth? To what extent is Clegg being open, honest and accountable for his actions? The appearance is a leading doing his best to arrive at “the right choice.”

quatarThe second high profile ethical dilemma concerns leaders of FIFA, the world footballing authority. The top officials now know the facts of Quata’s terrible ill-treatment of migrants constructing facilities for the forthcoming world cup competition.

Germany’s member of the Fifa executive openly admits conditions in Quatar are “absolutely unacceptable.”  He further agrees human rights considerations should play a bigger role in the decisions of the world and European football authorities,but

“What do you expect of a football organisation? Fifa is not the lawmaker in Quatar.”

This is not ethical leadership; instead we have a leader and organisation in denial. FIFA retains a major ability to affect the situation.

Should the FIFA leaders decide to approach the ethical dilemma with a simple decision framework such as Steare’s, the answers would not have taken long to emerge. The refusal to use what is considerable influence by threatening to remove the games from Quatar is an ethical failure.

FIFA must to be willing to carry such a decision through. Yet this is ruled out by the organisation. No wonder there is evidence of

“Frictions within Fifa and Uefa over how to deal with political, ethical and human rights issues.”fifa

What emerges is confusion. We see leaders unable to take a lead. They appear unwilling to set a tone leaving no doubt where the organisation stands in ethical and moral terms. Secondly, they are reluctant to produce meaningful action.

The dilemmas of Clegg and Fifa are uncomfortable ones to face. Both demand a degree of openness which in each case seems missing.

Doing what’s right” is never quite as easy as it appears from the outside.



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