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Professional Trends


The Role of Ethics in 21st Century Organizations

by Seth Stone
Program Manager, Regent University Professional and Continuing Education

In today’s organizations, especially businesses, we hear a lot about increased technology and the speed of commerce, globalization of the business landscape, wealth creation, and economic development. However, we do not often hear much about ethics, unless of course, someone within an organization, particularly a leader, is found to be involved in an ethics violation. We do not see headlines applauding businesses for the development of great ethics policies or new business start-ups designed to be an ethical leader in their industry. Why is this? Are ethics simply not very important? Of course they are. However, when it comes to ethics, organizations and leaders appear to be reactive as opposed to being proactive, which could be an underlying cause for why we have seen so many ethical failures in this very young 21st century.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate ethics should be more than a secondary consideration for leaders in today’s organizations and that they play a vital role in organizational success. The objective is to shed some light on how the business landscape has gotten to where it is concerning ethics and provide meaningful recommendations for developing effective ethical standards for today’s organizations. This article begins with developing an understanding of ethics as they are seen today from both a secular and Christian perspective. It then provides a high profile example of an ethical failure to illustrate the role and importance of ethics in the 21st century. Recommendations for developing practical and applicable ethical standards are provided, followed by conclusive remarks, which summarizes the article.

Understanding Ethics

Most people appear to have a preconceived notion of what ethics are, yet the general understanding of ethics can vary dramatically. Perhaps then, a definition of ethics is necessary in order to develop a basis for understanding them. Northouse (2007) states, "Ethics is concerned with the kinds of values and morals an individual or society finds desirable or appropriate. Furthermore, ethics is concerned with the virtuousness of individuals and their motives" (p. 342). While this definition provides a nice starting off point, it leaves perhaps, more questions than answers. What is desirable? What is appropriate? What is virtuousness? Since people and cultures are distinctly unique, the answers to these questions could vary significantly from individual to individual and from culture to culture. Thus, the challenge emerges of defining ethical standards in an ever globalized business landscape.

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