5 core ethical principles that make a trustworthy leader

EthicsLdr UScapitol 1200wWe are hungry for leaders we can trust to do the right thing in our best interest. Yet, the approval rating of our elected congressional leaders is at an abysmal level (86% disapproval) with less than a week to go before the national elections.

The reasons for the lack of confidence vary, but the general consensus is that special interests take precedence over the general welfare. Furthermore, elected officials (notice I did not call them leaders) put self-interest and party politics ahead of the needs of everyday people they are supposed to represent.

In short, we simply don’t trust them to do the right thing as an institution. That begs the question, “What should we expect of our leaders if they are to deserve our trust?”

I can only speak for myself. I have written in several posts that a leader is someone who takes us places we cannot, or will not, go alone. That definition presumes trust.

For me to trust someone to lead me, I must believe he, or she, acts according to an ethical standard that anchors them when they are pressured to veer in directions not in the best interest of those who are counting on them.

Here are five universal ethical principles that I believe apply to all leaders everywhere, all the time, no matter what.

Every life is equally valuable, without exception.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal.” A leader who lives by those words will esteem every human being on an equal level without regard for race, color, creed, religion, social status, economic status, gender, age (young or old), occupation, celebrity, or anything else that favors one human over another. As Jefferson continued, we have certain God-given unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Do no harm.

I simply expect my leaders to act in such a way that they do not act or legislate such that they intentionally harm anyone physically or economically.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few . . . or the one.

I realize some decisions are difficult. While the “do no harm” principle applies, there are times when the greater good is at odds with special interests of a few who want an advantage that is counter to the general welfare. I expect my leader to have the ethical courage to stand up to those special interests and deny their demands and favors.

The spirit of the law always trumps the letter of the law.

Laws change with a majority vote. What was illegal one day can be legal the next. But I believe there is a spirit of rightness that supersedes the letter of the law.

In what we know as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that while the law says don’t murder, the greater good is to not be angry toward or hate anyone. I expect my leader to look beyond the legal and strive for the higher ground within the spirit of the law. We can pass laws that legalize behaviors that violate the spirit of the principles previously mentioned.

Treat others the way you want them to treat you.

The Golden Rule is the best across the board advice. I want the best for myself in every aspect of my life experience. This principle covers issues of justice, equality, empathy, and compassion. It just makes sense. It is driven by the admonition, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

I’m confident, that if all our leaders in government, business, education, and religion acted by these five ethical principles alone,
they would be more
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 and more trustworthy.

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Encouragement for the Disheartened Worker

It’s sad that in our rush to the bottom line we have disheartened so many talented individuals. We are hungry for leaders who will build INPowering workplaces where motivated workers of all generations already want to contribute and to be appreciated for it.

I was updating the courseware for my nine-session course, Leading an INPowering Workplace, and came across this document I first wrote after listening to a friend lament how dysfunctional her workplace was and how she had become so discouraged. She circulated it to her coworkers. Soon she noticed they had copied it and posted it in their cubicles.

I freshened it a little for my revised courseware, and I decided to share it with you. Be my guest to download it and circulate it at will. Click here or on the image to get the download.

Encouragement, empowerment, workforce


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What kind of president would you be?

LeaderStyle Compass 2Only forty-three people actually know what it’s like to be President of the United States (POTUS). They are the ones who held the office. But everyone seems to have an opinion about how the president should handle the job.

Regardless of political persuasion, there is a constant among all the presidents: each had his own way of doing things. Each led according to his leadership style.

Which of the primary styles do you think would make the best leader?

  1. The Analytical

This style must gather information and act according to the facts. When enough is known, a plan can be formulated.
Strength: reasoned, precise, principled, deliberate
Weakness: hesitant, so intent to get it right that they fail to act in a timely way.

  1. The Guardian

This style is dedicated to maintaining safety in a status quo that they can control. They use rules, procedures, and discipline to achieve predictability through routine and compliance.
Strength: order, accomplishment, stability
Weakness: inflexible, judgmental, unimaginative

  1. The Engager

This style seeks to encounter followers by connecting and including. They function at an emotional level and through shared experiences. They are influenced by how others are affected by their actions and decisions.
Strength: inclusive, approachable, empathetic, connected to surroundings
Weakness: reactive, afraid to offend, rash, emotive when stressed

  1. The Visionary

This style sees infinite possibilities in situations. They generate reams of ideas that sometimes contradict each other, but may excite followers nonetheless. They are inclusive, tolerant, and adaptable.
Strength: inspiring, global, strategic, creative approaches
Weakness: unfocused, lack of follow through, unrealistic

Which of the styles, or combinations, of the above best describes you and the way you would lead?

There is not a right or wrong, good or bad, best or worst style. Each style is both effective and ineffective given the situation.

This is where the trouble starts. Many leaders are not very good at (1) recognizing their own style, and (2) adapting when necessary.

Case in point: President Obama is an Analytical. He needs to be more of an Engager. He wants to do the right thing and make the right decision, but that causes him to hesitate and appear disconnected. He is connected intellectually, but that does not translate into out front, in public view, and in control. Note that his accusers are attacking him for not being a Guardian, but they have no alternative Visionary strategies to resolve the situation other than returning to the status quo.

I’m sure I’ve over simplified the situation, but I think I’m right on about the importance of style.

My point: if you want to be an effective leader, know your primary style and begin learning how to adapt your style to the situation. The more balanced your style, the more equipped you will be.

Regardless of your personal convictions,
know your style,
and you will be
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Tip: How to be a more confident decision maker

TIP logo arrow 150wEveryone can identify with the dilemmas associated with making a choice. A different apartment, a new car, a new pair of shoes, where to take a vacation, etc.

All of these decisions present multiple choices, and we have to pick one. But which one.

It all comes down to being good at identifying the decision criteria that an acceptable solution must meet.

Criteria, criteria, criteria.

Here are three categories of criteria I find helpful that apply to all types of situations, whether personal or business.

1. Optimum state criteria.

These are more general statements of what the final solution state will be like. For example: better health, more convenient, or more economical. These get us started toward more specific criteria that come out of the next two.

2. Threshold criteria.

This sets upper and/or lower limits. Any option that is outside these limits is not viable. You eliminate it from consideration. For example: If your rent budget is $1,000 per month, an apartment that leases for $1,200 is outside the threshold, and you should not consider it. Another one might be less than thirty minutes commute to work. An extra fifteen minutes each way will cost you 2½ hours a week of driving time you could be doing something else.

We often get ourselves into trouble on this one, because we find a feature we like in an option and end up rationalizing that a few extra dollars is worth it. Beware of anyone who tries to up sell you beyond your threshold. Know your thresholds and stick with them.

3. Features criteria.

These are the specifics that make a difference. Back to the apartment example. Some feature criteria might include two bedrooms, ample cabinet and storage space, well equipped fitness center, pool, open floor plan, abundant natural light.

The key to features criteria is to list those that make a difference and to know why they make a difference to you. I also rank order them so that I make my decision based on the most important features that will get me to my optimum state.

If you use these suggestions, you will be a more confident decision maker. It’s more likely you will get what you want, because you know what you want.

Live unleashed,
Garland McWatters


Why making decisions is harder than it should be

Young couple dinnerMost of us have experienced the following decision-making quandary:

You: “How about we go out for dinner this evening?”

Them: “Sounds good to me. Where?”

You: “Oh, I don’t know. What sounds good to you?”

Them: “Oh, I don’t know. I’m not all that hungry. Still full from lunch.”

You: “OK. So, what particular kinds of food sound good to you?”

Them: “Nothing too spicy.”

You: “How about Italian?”

Them: “Maybe. Too carb loaded, however.”

You: “We could go to the steak house.”

Them: “I don’t know. What else is there?”

You: “How about sushi?”

Them: “You’re kidding, right?”

You: “There’s the cafeteria.”

Them: “Yuck. Too institutional.”

You: “How about a hamburger?”

Them: “Whatever.”

You: “How about we just have pizza delivered?”

Them: “OK. I didn’t really want to get out anyway.”

You: “How about a supreme?”

Them: “OK. But no olives.”

You: “OK.”

Them: “And hamburger instead of sausage. Or it’s too spicy for me.”

You: “OK.”

Them: “And no green peppers or onions.”


I try to live by a simple rule that I call the “Law of Clarity.”

“If you don’t know what you want
one of two things will be true:
either nothing will do,
or anything will do.”

There is a corollary to this law, which states, “Not getting what you don’t want will not guarantee that you will get what you do want.”

As the scenario above shows, we often enter into a decision-making situation unclear about what we want and why we want it.

I find this to be true at all levels of decision-making: from going out to dinner, to global war and peace.

Lack of clarity about what we want is a mind numbing dead end where we are left to react, react, react, only to find ourselves going in circles. That’s maddening.

However, having clarity of purpose, gives us some criteria that define the quality of the result we are wanting.

What if the conversation above had started like this?

You: “It’s been a hectic week for both of us. I’d like to spend some quiet time over dinner, relaxing and catching up over a delicious meal­–being waited on and pampered. I’ve reserved a table at Jamil’s.”

Them: “Sounds great. I didn’t want to have to decide what to eat tonight.”

Tough decisions get easier when you begin by clarifying what you want and why. This also keeps decision-making in the affirmative: going for what you want instead of scrambling to avoid not getting what we don’t want.

Live by the Law of Clarity,
and you will be
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