Interesting findings of a global study conducted by WFEB around virtues, behavior and ethical dilemmas

As children all of us grew up listening to enchanted fairy tales, fables and myths. As a parent when we read the same popular fairy tales, we find new meaning in them. For eg. the story of “Puss in Boots” is about a clever cat who uses trickery to benefit his master. While the story was very delightful, as a parent, I was at a loss to explain to my child whether it was right for Puss in boots to lie and deceive people around him.

The same sense of helplessness is experienced by all of us, as Leaders and professionals, when we have to handle situations that conflict with the ethical and moral choices we hold very dear to ourselves and bold decisions that need to be taken. However much we try, it almost appears that we are perpetually struggling to solve the “right vs. right” puzzle.

Have you ever been caught in an ethical dilemma? What did you do when faced with the prospect of taking bold decisions when confronted with two equally compelling choices? Were you able to achieve the required balance and meet your objectives? Were you able to sleep peacefully at night thinking that you took the most appropriate decision?

Shedding new light on this gray zone, Vandana Pragada & Rajita Kulkarni attempted to bring forth the various shades of grey through a study of how bold decisions are taken by Business Leaders and professionals the world over and what is the trade-off.

The decision-making process

In today’s world of fast pacing change, Leaders are required to make quick decisions on the basis of limited information. Most of the time decisions are driven by gut or instinct. This “gut feel” is driven by our inner software called “Character”. Character is driven by virtues -The programming language that dictates our perception of the world and situation. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, WFEB’s co-founder, once mentioned, “everyone has two eyes but different perspectives”, thereby alluding to the virtues and values that help us interpret the world.

There are Six Leadership virtues that drive our ethical behaviour.

The Six Leadership virtues are:

Since virtues underpin the actions and bold decisions taken by Leaders, We ran a survey to understand the action patterns taken by Leaders and professionals when faced with circumstances, challenges and conflicts causing ethical dilemmas.

Over 120 delegates who participated in the recently concluded Leadership Symposium at Brussels participated in this survey helping us glean some very interesting facts around bold decisions and ethical dilemmas.

Our Ethical Core

At the core irrespective of our nationalities, gender, economic stature etc, we all are similar. Our survey identified the following 5 common virtues that all of us hold very dear to us.

Leadership Virtue profile of the Global Ethical Leaders

Generally it is found that business pressures, organizational culture, supervisory pressures and loyalty towards colleagues land people in an ethical spot.

What drives our ethical choices and decisions?

While fundamentally all of us share common ethical virtues, the question is what circumstances or situations drive us to take a stand or decision? Well the answer is not surprising – Interest of society at large guides us to take decisions in a dilemma.

Unity in Diversity

Just like a nutritious salad is a potpourri of different ingredients and multiple flavours, Ethical decision-making also retains multiple flavours of gender, nationality, race etc.

Some interesting Insights – Did you know?

  • Its proven that Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, at least when it comes to actions and decisions taken on ethical dilemmas
  • Males hold on to Practical wisdom more whereas Kindness & Love score higher for women
  • Males balance equitable distribution of rewards while Females always want to communicate truthful & factual information
  • Work experience makes males more humble while females develop service mindset
  • East and West – The twain shall meet some day
Europeans are adept at managing conflict of interests and are flexible enough to reconsider bold decisions, if required Asians focus on fulfilling promises and commitments and would stick to bold decisions once taken
  • Lack of experience and grey hair matters when it comes to taking bold decisions
Young Leaders tend to say a firm “NO” to unethical situations and the same is true for when they are more than 50. In the “middle age” group, this seems to dip

Most organizations have laid out an ethical framework of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to Business ethics. However, taking bold decisions is not as simple as following a simple checklist. It calls upon Leaders and professionals to use judgment and make a choice causing a trade-off in virtues.

Most of us are required to choose between “acting prudently” and honoring truthfulness. Young Leaders at the cross roads of bold decisions find it difficult to choose between being “courageous” and “honouring truthfulness”. Similarly the older generation of leaders in the age group of 50 and above is forced to trade-off between “Honoring truthfulness” and “showing justice”. Once again our findings reinforce the perpetual dilemma females face – Should they “act prudently” or “show courage” in situations where they are required to take bold decisions.

With the increasing prominence of ethics in the world of business, there’s a strong need to understand the ethical dilemmas that people in general face and create an appropriate response framework and tool kit. In the absence of such an approach, we run the risk of relative interpretation with future ramifications.

As responsible world citizens, you can do your bit in creating an ethical foundation for businesses the world over to use by participating in the survey mentioned below:

As Sri Sri says “Trust is the Breath of Business; Ethics its limbs; to uplift the Spirit its Goal.

Take the Oath of Ethics on