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Leadership Development

Building or Expanding a Culture of Ethical Behavior in an Organization

2023-Building- or -Expanding- a -Culture- of -Ethical -Behavior- in-an -Organization

Establish or Improve Your Ethical Behavior as a Leader

Building a culture of ethical behavior in organization requires the full commitment of not only leaders, but other key stakeholders that play an essential role in company culture. In today’s business landscape, ethics, integrity, and accountability are integral to creating a safe environment for employees and maintaining a positive reputation.

A leader who takes proactive steps toward forwarding – or establishing – an ethical culture within their organization or department sets a foundation for organizational trust, while reducing risk, promoting innovation, and increasing employee retention and motivation. 


While the terminology is not new to the workplace, there has been a noticeable refocus on ethical behavior in recent years, prompting many organizations and teams to reevaluate and adjust their company culture. This shift can be accredited to, in part, the new generation entering the workforce who have a new perspective on the companies they work for and their careers at a whole.

In The Leadership Challenge, authors and executive educators Kouzes and Posner assert that language and action are key pieces of developing an ethical culture, both of which are common yet easily overlooked. Keep in mind that, for both individual teams and larger corporations, “the picture you paint of your shared vision evokes a culture you aspire to create.”

Explore and assess the concepts below to establish or improve ethics in your organization.

Clearly communicate and define ethical values.

Does your organization have a clear mission and vision that establishes ethical values? If so, consistent communication of these values is essential to ensure that there are clear expectations set for all employees. This can manifest in a variety of ways, whether that be verbal reminders at meetings or 1-on-1’s, yearly ethical training and development, codes of conduct or open-door policies.

Firmly establish ethical values within your department.

Not all organizations have a formal acknowledgement of their ethical values. While this is highly advised at a corporate-level, leaders can create and maintain an ethical environment within their department if certain informal policies and procedures are set in place. Regularly communicating your expectations as a leader as it relates to honesty, inclusivity, and integrity can provide a safe space for employees to share shortcomings and establish standards for ethical behavior.

Lead by example.

Consider this quote by the late Thomas J. Watson, former businessman and CEO of IBM: “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others, as what he does from day to day to lead himself.”

Leaders have an innate duty to model ethical behavior to their employees. Holding themselves accountable for maintaining both the organizations values and their own established professional values ensures that they are modeling the way. In short, leading by example is the simplest method to reinforce expected ethical behaviors.

Create a safe space for employees.

Speak-up cultures, by definition, are cultures that encourage employees to voice their concerns, problems, or suggestions without fear of retaliation from their peers or superiors. Creating individualized relationships with your employees can foster a comfortable environment where they feel safe and supported when raising issues. This can empower employees to report ethical violations as soon as they arise. In addition to this, it is important to address unethical behavior immediately and hold the employee accountable. 

When people feel meaningfully connected and psychologically safe at work, they bring their best ideas and effort to every challenge. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Workshop is a valuable opportunity for anyone who wants to set the stage for innovation and create a healthy and productive workplace. Psychological safety is suitable for any employee, executive, leader, manager or team—anyone who wants to move the dial on innovation, inclusion, appreciation of diversity, or to improve the culture at their organization.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Learn More About FlashPoint's Psychological Safety Offerings

Kara Janssen

Kara Janssen creates engaging content that connects our clients to the FlashPoint brand and mission, helping them grow as leaders.