Most of us probably like to think of ourselves and our firms as ‘ethical’ and ‘decent’. Couple this with values and our other systems and we are inclined to think we are doing what we can and should in regard to ethics. Cynthia Schoeman, who presented a topical keynote on ethics for business leaders at the 2011 Boss of the Year Award convention in South Africa warns that this may not be enough. She highlights a number of challenges and things we can do to be better prepared. I think the points she made have particular relevance for legal leaders.
Cynthia highlighted a number of ethical issues and challenges for leaders within the context of the present economic environment:
- ethics is the new fault-line of leadership
- what has changed in recent years is the level of visibility arising from ethical slip-ups; this has increased substantially
- ethical failures have the potential to cause untold harm – the BP oil spill provides a graphic example as does the News of the World scandal. While the cost of clearing up the oil was massive, as will be the payouts in relation to News of the World, but the companies will not get credit for such payments, but rather how they handle the fallout.