Ethical decisions are a part of everyday life, but they are even more prominent when leading a team, a company or an entire organization. Ethics are essential for effective leadership, and leaders are responsible for creating ethical organizations. Because people make decisions multiple times a day, ensuring that every decision is ethical is an essential skill, especially for leaders. Ethical decisions are often based on intuition without a logical explanation for why a certain solution was chosen. However, to increase the ethics of a situation, logic needs to be applied to the decision-making process. Logical analysis of a situation creates a deeper understanding of the underlying issues and so improves outcomes. As ethical leaders it is our duty to lead employees and the company towards the best possible outcomes.
There are many logical approaches to ethics and multiple approaches can be used simultaneously to arrive at the best ethical answer. Some analytical approaches to ethics include:
The Utilitarian Approach
This approach relies on the concept that the best ethical decision has the most beneficial consequences for the largest group of people. The four steps of a utilitarian analysis include defining the ethical challenge, identifying those affected by the decision, determine the positive and negative consequences of the decision, and weigh the differences between those consequences.
Kant’s Categorical Imperative
Kant approaches ethical dilemmas based on the belief that people should always be the main focus and never be treated as a means. Kant recommends basing your ethical decision on one simple question: “Would I want everyone else to make the decision I did?” If the answer is no, then it is not the right decision. If the answer is yes, Kant argues that the analysis and decision are correct.
Rawls’ Justice as Fairness
This concept is centered on two principles based in theories of fairness and justice. First, everyone has an equal right to basic liberties, and second, inequalities, both social and economic, have two conditions: 1) everyone has an equal opportunity to qualify for job, and 2) priority should be given to meeting the needs of the less fortunate.
This approach uses pragmatism as an ethical decision making tool. The process of using the scientific method allows people to come up with ethical solutions, because the hypotheses are tested through dramatic rehearsal. One should come up with a solution to an ethical dilemma and then test it, hypothetically, to see if the solution and its consequences were indeed ethical. What sets this approach apart is the use of emotion and feeling as indicators of unethical decisions.
This method to ethical dilemmas focuses on what is best for others and not what is best for oneself. People helping one another and witnessing leaders make sacrifices to the benefit of their employees or customers has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the staff.
Ethical decisions have a profound impact on others, even when they are not directly involved or affected by the decision. Good character is created when making ethical decisions and that character disintegrates when unethical decisions are made. Everyone has an influence on other people, therefore it is our obligation to others and the world to not only keep our ethical character intact, but to increase it so that it can withstand the tests of our time while encouraging others to do the same.
-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently working toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.