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A 7-point strategy for leaders to approach any ethical challenges

Taking the right approach to ethical challenges benefits your leadership, drives innovation, and creates a more sustainable platform for your organization to grow. 

A 7-point strategy for leaders to approach any ethical challenges
[Source photo: Karolina Kaboompics/Pexels]

Ethical challenges will arise in any business as leaders confront uncertainty, complexity, and new decisions as technology, particularly generative AI, changes how we work, connect, and engage.

Guided by a strong sense of integrity, ethical leaders respect the dignity and rights of others and strive to secure outcomes that benefit the common good, not just themselves.

Such leaders accept that navigating ethical challenges at work requires fortitude, a deliberate approach, and a willingness to make tough decisions—doing what is right, not what is easy or practical. This is how to prepare to elevate your leadership to meet ethical challenges.


Deloitte Access Economics and The Ethics Centre in Australia  found that a 10% improvement in ethical behavior across companies and government organizations would add $45 billion to Australia’s GDP annually.

Taking the right approach to ethical challenges benefits your leadership, drives innovation, and creates a more sustainable platform for your organization to grow. Consumers and clients also increasingly expect and want to work with ethically aligned organizations.


All organizations face ethical issues. These can range from addressing privacy and security concerns arising from AI to ethically managing global supply chain and sustainability issues. By their very nature, ethical dilemmas often involve ambiguity and uncertainty, and they always involve decision-making.

As a leader, you will face choices when working through ethical issues, such as the level of transparency, balancing collective good with organizational outcomes, the best approach to workforce change, and how to address societal and environmental impacts.

When confronting choices, ask yourself: How does this align with my values, and if I make this decision, does it represent the leader I am?


In the busyness of the working day, it can be easy to overlook ethical challenges. Therefore, it’s important to be alert to weak signals and open to assessing what is happening around you. Be curious and question. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s worth investigating further.

It also helps to identify potential ethical challenges in advance, so you’ll be more prepared should they arise. One way to do this is to adopt a risk assessment process where you regularly identify potential sources and dilemmas. Through this process, you identify potential issues and the options to address, and you can assess how those options align or misalign with your organization’s values.

For example, new technology may facilitate the ability to collect and analyze vast amounts of personal user data, which could be monetized. However, doing so would go against the organization’s values of putting customer interests first.


Complex and adaptive ethical problems require deliberate focus and an acute awareness of any bias or limitations that impede decision-making. It can be easy to fall into the trap of making easy and popular decisions and consequently take the path of least resistance. However, ethical dilemmas require leaders to think broadly and deeply. You must challenge your cognitive thinking patterns to identify any bias or assumptions filtering into your decision-making.

In such situations, it helps to use a structured decision-making process where you get explicit about what you know and what you don’t know. The most effective way to do this is to detail the known and unknowns. For example, what do we know for sure? What are we curious about? What is uncertain and unclear? In looking at those details, challenge yourself (and others in the room) to consider if information or data is being ignored because it goes against a worldview, belief structures and assumptions the decision-makers hold.

Decision processes like this take time, so be considerate and deliberate and recognize the value of deep conversations.


Robust ethical frameworks, processes, and systems support ethical decision-making. As part of building your organization’s ethical approach, outline how you and your team will work through ethical challenges as they arise.

For example, your framework may specify the key steps to take when a potential ethical issue is identified, and how to best engage in open dialogue, transparent communication, and effective stakeholder engagement.

The first step might be to gather the relevant parties to gather data and critical insights so they can openly and robustly debate the challenge and ensure everyone fully understands the risks and consequences. Next, the group may work through the best options to address and weigh each of these options using agreed-upon decision criteria. That decision criteria can balance expectations, needs, and desired outcomes across stakeholder groups. The next step may involve socializing the preferred approach to key stakeholders to get additional input or buy-in before the appropriate person or decision-making body makes a final decision.


As you work through these ethical challenges, being conscious of who you are listening to and who is being sidelined is critical. Create space to hear different voices by asking questions and ensuring participation in the process from a broad range of people. Remember, the person with the dissenting opinion or asking the probing questions often helps you see the issue from a different perspective. Also, be aware of gatekeepers who control the flow of information to and from you. If access to you is heavily managed, securing a realistic assessment of what is happening and its consequences is harder.


Ethical leaders support their team members when facing ethical challenges by role-modeling ethical behavior. So, as part of your ethical leadership approach, foster a team dynamic where your team are actively encouraged to discuss ethical challenges. This means you genuinely listen to them when they raise concerns and are consistent in your approach. Doing so sets a standard and tells your team that you have their back and are committed to creating a psychologically safe work environment where ethical behavior matters.


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Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert and the award-winning author of three books including Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one, or are one. More

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