Defining Leadership: Ethics as a Cornerstone for Strong Business Leaders

Qualities such as integrity, trust, moral fortitude and psychological safety are timeless, and valued amid the good, bad and indifferent; however, these fundamental personal and organizational characteristics are only underscored in an environment forever changed by public health and social upheaval.    

For almost a quarter of a century, the Business Ethics Alliance and its guild of business leader-trustees have promoted ethics-building discussions, practices, forums, community programs and its signature EthicSpace event, slated this year at CHI Health Center on October 13.

“Certainly, adherence to policies and laws is at the foundation of any understanding and conversation related to ethical leadership,” said Casey Putney, vice president of leadership development at the Business Ethics Alliance. “In its simplest form, doing what is right is at the heart of understanding ethical leadership. But I also think the concept deserves to be expanded.”

Pointedly, Putney noted that today’s ethical leadership should focus on creating a culture that allows everyone to reach their full potential.

“It’s about creating a place of safety where every employee feels valued, respected, appreciated and heard,” he stated. “It’s what we all deserve and desire.”

Moreover, of-the-moment ethical leaders behave in ways that not only keep respective organizations free of legal risk, Putney said, but also focus on building relationships with those individuals that they lead. 

“They work to create cultures where people feel free to be themselves, share their opinions and voice their concerns without reprisal,” he added. “Ethical leaders of today understand that inside of our organizations, we impact lives. And our employees, our teammates, carry that impact, either positive or negative, home to their loved ones.”

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Marketwide Trust

The Better Business Bureau’s relationship with the Business Ethics Alliance is as old as the ethical leadership not-for-profit itself; in fact, the BBB is one of three founding partners – alongside the Heider College of Business at Creighton University and the Greater Omaha Chamber. 

“A high degree of trust between businesses and consumers is essential for a healthy marketplace,” said Jim Hegarty, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau, Inc., serving Nebraska, South Dakota, the Kansas Plains and southwest Iowa. “That trust can be fragile and ethical leaders need to be intentional about ensuring that processes and procedures are in place to prevent ethical lapses from happening, as well as being well prepared to respond to an ethical issue that may develop.”

Transparency and accountability, Hegarty continued, are “critical core values” that must be embedded into organizations. In this manner, he noted that the bond of trust between businesses and consumers remains intact. 

“For more than a century, our organization has been a leader in advancing marketplace trust,” Hegarty added. “We are duty-bound to pursue this mission, day in and day out. It is our compass. Other organizations look to us for guidance. So, it’s imperative that the BBB practice what it preaches on an organizational level.”

Elevating Noble Skills

Allen Fredrickson founded Signature Performance as a business processing services provider to the health care industry in 2004. Today, he leads more than 1,000 associates across a 20-plus-state footprint as president and CEO. Among dozens of other industry and professional memberships and achievements, Fredrickson serves as a member of the Business Ethics Alliance board of directors and as a trustee.

To his former business leadership, the exec noted how developing ethical leaders at Signature Performance “starts in the hiring process.”

“We aim to hire people of character that are eager to grow,” he continued. “This is one of the many reasons we partner with the Business Ethics Alliance. The content, conversations and programming available support our internal professional development opportunities. Omaha is fortunate to have a forum like Business Ethics Alliance leading the conversation around ethics in business.”

When asked about best practices honed at his business that our readers could take away, Fredrickson alluded to the clients that they partner with in addition to the talent that they hire. 

“Both are equally important,” he explained. “Doing business for the right reasons and building trust is foundational to doing exceptional work. which is especially important in the industry we serve — health care.”

Beyond professional development opportunities for all the company’s associates, Fredrickson said, it also has “The Signature Way:” eight guiding principles that define how to show up and serve as business leaders every day. 

“In health care, not all the decisions we make are simple,” he said. “The Signature Way serves as a guide for making ethical and honorable business decisions.”

The importance of ethical leadership is undeniable, Fredrickson indicated, saying it’s “everything to us.”

“From the firm’s first day … ethical leadership has been at the core of how we do business,” he stated. “This commitment has helped us attract and retain industry-leading talent. Leading with courage, passion, respect and integrity is one of our competitive advantages, and one of the reasons Signature Performance has been able to transform health care in the United States, by reducing administrative burdens and costs, and improving the quality, access and cost of care.”