Resist the Siren's Song

As leaders, it is easy to be seduced by the idea that bigger and better opportunities come with more power. While this may be true in some situations, such thinking also brings a unique set of ethical temptations that can derail even the most promising leader’s career. The ability to make decisions and resist temptations without compromising moral principles is essential for long-term success—and requires an ongoing commitment from those who aspire to lead. We’ll explore how leaders can resist the siren’s call of ethical temptations and explain how understanding their sources can help you take control over potential pitfalls before they have a chance to take hold.

IMS educator Dr. Clint Longenecker discusses five ethical facts leaders don’t talk about, which are the following:

  1. Every leader face temptations due to the position they hold.
  2. The word “temptation” is generally ignored, veiled, or dismissed in leadership and ethics development training.
  3. Organizations are quick to tell their people what not to do, but rarely give them the tools to conquer the temptations that come with the territory.
  4. The higher you rise in any organization, the greater the exposure to temptation (and the greater the fall).
  5. A leader’s success, power, and position can actually set the table for ethical failure without due diligence!

The first step is to explore the temptations that you are currently facing and ask the following questions when making decisions with ethical implications:

  • Is this decision legal? How does it impact the stakeholders?
  • Is this decision in line with my organization’s values / my values?
  • What is the upside/downside of this decision?

As a leader, it’s critical to establish ethical guardrails to avoid future ethical failures. Dr. Longenecker has provided some helpful recommendations:

  • Create awareness of potential threats by situational analysis.
  • Develop a personal code of conduct to act as a guide when making tough decisions.
  • Foster a relationship with an accountability partner to ensure you remain on the right track.
  • Practice servant leadership to maintain humility.
  • Seek input from experts when unsure of appropriate action, such as legal, HR, EO/EEO liaisons, etc.
  • Keep good records and documentation.
  • Maintain transparent communication and consistency.
  • Make use of existing organizational guardrails.

Implementing these practices can help you lead with integrity and ensure ethical behavior within your organization.

Altogether, knowledgeable self-awareness of the temptations that come with being a leader, clear thinking points, and ethical guardrails provide leaders with the tools to make wise decisions. By examining one’s personal values and organizational standards, then asking the right questions before making any decision, we can create both successful external results and preserve our morality. After all, a leader is only as successful – and ethical – as their actions are. So gathered together now is an arsenal for leadership: knowledge of temptation and subsequent prevention methods to reach ethical success. Let’s move forward toward good outcomes for both individuals and organizations!

To learn more about ethical leadership, listen to my conversation with Dr. Clint Longenecker. You may also want to look at one of my previous articles on Why Leaders Fail to Deliver.


Charles Good is the president of The Institute for Management Studies, which provides transformational learning experiences that drive behavioral change and develop exceptional leaders. Charles is an innovative and resourceful leader who specializes in bringing people together to develop creative organizational and talent strategies that enable business results. His areas of expertise include assessing organizational skill gaps and leading the design, creation and delivery of high impact, innovative learning solutions that achieve business goals.

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