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The Ethics of Business Leadership

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Business leaders – what ethical standards should they be held to? There are different arguments about the moral values and actions of business and political leaders. Some of them are represented in the works Is It Better to Be Loved than Feared? by Niccolo Machiavelli and Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert Greenleaf. This paper is going to negate Machiavelli’s point of view that people should fear their leader, and to support Greenleaf’s view that the true leader must be a servant-first.

In Is It Better to Be Loved than Feared? Machiavelli argues that the effective leader must be feared but not loved. According to his view, “…since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” Machiavelli also thinks that “…fear is bound by the apprehension of punishment which never relaxes.” His argument is mistaken because the leader must be neither feared nor loved: both these feelings are extreme and improper. If the subordinates are not relaxed because of fear, they make their job badly. When people fear their leader, they will do everything he commands, but eventually, they can rise against him. They might hate him, which is bad for the leader. Hate may develop into a conspiracy to overthrow the leader. The true leader must not be a tyrant or a person who uses his power and authority for threatening his subordinates. On the contrary, he has to understand the needs and consider the opinions of his people in order that they might respect him. In such situation, people will award the leader with their esteem and confidence.

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The same is with love: the leader is not a child or a pet to be loved. Again, people must honor him as a business chief, but not love – the love for the leader may become fanatic. When people love their leader, they obey and follow him blindfolded. They may do everything he tells, and laud him to the skies. He becomes an idol, a god for those men. There exist a big number of incidents, when leaders of some business or religious groups and communities extracted money from their staff using blind love of those people. Moreover, people believed them and gave them everything they had, even their lives, sometimes. However, a veritable leader does not want his subordinates to love him in such a way. He will rather earn their respect with his noble deeds than get their love with honeyed promises.

In this way, one can conclude that finding the golden mean is the most important thing for being a good leader. He must be prudent and wise and should have high moral qualities. Machiavelli argues that a leader must have not only good qualities but contrary too, “…it is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, religious, and upright, and also to be so; but the mind should remain so balanced that were it needful not to be so, you should be able and know how to change to the contrary.” His argument is debatable, because every situation has different solution. A good leader must be able to discern people one from another, not to confuse good with evil, and to change according to the circumstances. He has to know how to put himself in somebody’s place and when to be a “lion” and when to become a “fox.” He must be flexible and should be able to adjust to the situation. In communication, he should use the language of his interlocutor. He may joke wth one person and be serious with another. However, a perfect leader cannot forget about ethics and morality. In every situation, he must be an example of the grand manner and should behave properly. It implies that people should hold their business leaders to higher standards. A leader must be highly educated, good at speaking and persuasive; he should stick to his word and be sure of his acts. Even with evil, he has to stay moral and fair. He should behave in such a way that people would trust him and respect him, because when the leader behaves in an unseemly manner and does not keep his word, who would believe him then?

Hence, the question comes: how do we determine what individuals should be held to the higher standards and which not? The answer is the following: people always need to have some personalities who will lead them; they need someone to listen and obey, but not totally, of course. There would be total economic and political chaos without leaders in the world. The same is in business: when there is no leader, who will organize the working procedure, assign jobs to the workers, and give the commands? There must be a person, who will assume responsibilities and put everything to rights. Otherwise, there will be disorder in business. The workers will compete for a place of a leader, and the working procedure will stop. Here, the true leader must appear and introduce proper order in business. However, the leaders should not be allowed to play by different rules because it would not seem fair with other people. Special rules for leaders may cause big changes in the human relations, even the war. Therefore, business leaders must be held to higher ethical standards, but not to different ones, to make their subordinates attain to the level of the best. It is very difficult to be the best, and only few may achieve it, that is why there is no reason to set high limits for everyone.

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At the same time, it is not enough for leaders simply to appear ethical. They must be ethical in their minds, every day and every night, even if there is no one beside them. They must be not only ethical, but also wise, smart, and reasonable about business they do. If a leader merely pretends to be ethical, but he is immoral in his daily life, the truth will come out in the end. For example, a man is a perfect leader, he is good at his business, he is decent with his subordinates, but he beats his wife and cries on his children. In other words, he gives vent to his negative feelings and loses his temper at home. His family suffers because he cannot show his real feelings at work. He only pretends to be ethical, but, out of his office, he is not. However, who will trust and respect an unethical leader?

One more quality that is important for a good leader is an ability to serve people and to elicit trust. Robert Greenleaf assures that the real leader must be a servant for his subordinates. He is right because the servant-leader cares about others’ needs and leads those people to the right goal. Moreover, serving people is his mission. Men will believe such a leader and follow him in every direction.

How can one identify a true servant-leader? First, he must have good spiritual values, be competent in his judgments, and prove his faithfulness and service to his people by the actions he performs. According to Greenleaf, the servant-leader has “… to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” At the same time, he doubts whether the servant-first will benefit or not. There is the dilemma: “one cannot know for sure.” The natural servant will make some attempts to find out “what serves another’s highest priority needs.” He will make mistakes, but eventually, he will find the right way and become the true servant who will lead.

Someone can argue that every leader may appear to serve people and to make gains on it by compelling his subordinates to serve him. Many business leaders behave in such an unfair way in our days. They convince people of the truth of their words, promise them improvement of their lives after doing something, and get their way. However, this cannot go on forever. People are not blind, and they will understand everything after a while. Eventually, they will be disappointed in such leaders. The unfair leader will be brought to a stop. The other leader will come, and he will need some time to prove his faithfulness and integrity. There are not so many individuals who really want to serve people. Nevertheless, if such a person will gain human confidence, he will succeed in his leadership and come into his own.

Robert Greenleaf assures us that every achievement must start with a dream, and a leader must be a great dreamer. He writes, “Not much happens without a dream. And for something great to happen, there must be a great dream. Behind every great achievement is a dreamer of great dreams.” His argument is excellent but one can reply that the leader must have not only a dream, but also a plan. He must know clearly what does he want and how to achieve his goal. The aim may be called “a dream,” but it must have the end point. The perfect statement to prove it is the quote “Goals are dreams with deadlines” by Diana Scharf Hunt, the author of Studying Smart. A dream is something not real, but a goal is a clearly formulated intention. It must be the first in the achievement. If there is an intention, a man will reach his goal for sure. A good leader always has a goal and knows in advance, what he should do to attain it. There would be no success in a business without a perfect aim and a strong intention. 

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One more very important quality of a great leader is charisma. It is an ability to satisfy others of the rightness of his goal and to persuade people to help him in its achievement. Such leader must arouse interest of his subordinates in his goal, be able to convince them that this goal is theirs too, and they will benefit from it. Of course, it must be really so. Then, people will follow their leader and bring the aim to reality. Nevertheless, as it was mentioned above, people should not do something because of their love to the leader. He must not manipulate but prove on his actions that the goal deserves people’s activity.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that ethics should hold a high position in business leadership. Being ethical is not so widely distributed among the present leaders but it is still viable. The younger generation should do everything to save and develop such qualities as morality, faithfulness, honesty, and friendliness to make business relationships better for both leaders and their subordinates. There is no doubt that people should held business leaders to higher ethical standards but not to different ones. In addition, leaders must behave in such a way that people will respect them but neither love nor fear. When a leader becomes an example for imitation, he will succeed in his business beyond all doubt.

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