by Don Dunn, PhD
We have researched ethical leadership for nearly 100 years, but not as extensively and with as complicated methodology as during the new millennium. Due to the ethical failure or dark leadership of so many corporations during the early years of the 21st Century, the study of company ethics has hit a feverish pitch in looking at best practices and organizational behavioral results.
Much of the literature on ethical leadership, specifically in the area of how we lead and manage ethics at the organizational or corporate level, offers a wide variety of components or processes needed to assure that a company operates ethically. The literature offers components such as codes, rewards, discipline, ethical training and communication, decision-making tools, accountability processes, and/or the new kid on the block – ethical audits. In reviewing the literature, I noticed that there was not a consensus on one model of consistent components to lead and manage ethics. Would it not be advantageous to know that there was some sort of model or framework by which any organization in any industry of any size could create, improve, or enhance its ethical culture? Would it not be beneficial to busy executives to have a framework that could easily be implemented in their organizations that would guide company ethics?
That was the problem and purpose of my research using a qualitative, multiple case study approach sampling three organizations of global, regional, and local reach that had demonstrated strong ethical processes. In researching these organizations, collecting data from three different sources, I was able to determine that a model of consistent components emerged from the single- and cross-case analysis.
The model is called the Moldable Model© (MM) because it has a fixed framework of three components that all organizations can use, but then can adapt or mold those fixed components to fit company-specific needs. The MM includes the fixed framework of these components: role modeling, context, and accountability or as delivered in the three R’s of corporate ethics: (1) Role modeling, (2) research Reasons or outcomes for being ethical, and (3) Responsibility or holding employees accountable for company values. Role modeling based on social learning and social exchange theories can be implemented in different ways in the organization; it is a leadership function (influence relationship). Reasons to be ethical are numerous, and specific reasons can be selected by the company to share with and to motivate employees toward ethical conduct. Responsibility or holding all employees responsible for company values is a management function (authority relationship) and includes a choice of several activities such as hiring protocols, consistent ethics training, communication of company ethics, rewards and discipline, ethical audits, and/or employee evaluations that include adherence to company values.
Specific explanations and implementation processes of the MM are available in my recently published book by Business Expert Press: Designing Ethical Workplaces: The Moldable Model©. The book was written for use in executive MBA programs and for PDWs, while based on solid research.