Friday, April 21, 2006

A little on ethical leadership

"Real leaders concentrate on doing the right thing, not on doing things right."

The quote I use as an epigraph above comes from the document I am posting about here. I picked the item up from Michael Lorenzen's blog, where he links and briefly comments about an ERIC Digest document on Ethical Leadership. Though this is mostly for school principals, some of the ideas and principles presented apply to library leaders. I say leaders and not managers since one does not automatically equal the other. Leaders in our profession often do not run libraries, and there is a share of library managers who are often anything but leaders. At any rate, I think good leaders should have a good sense of ethics. So, I would like to jot down some ideas from the paper with some of my thoughts, mostly as a reminder to myself.
  • "Thus, the principal must not only behave responsibly as an individual, but must create an ethical institution."
I think we can replace "principal" with "library director" (or any other library unit chief), and the idea would still be valid. For starters, the leader leads by example. You can't expect others to be ethical if you are not ethical. In addition, the leader fosters and nurtures the work environment, so he or she must make sure ethical behavior is the norm and not the exception.
  • "Greenfield points out that much of a principal's authority is moral; that is, teachers must be convinced that the principal's point of view reflects values they support. Coercion through bureaucratic authority will seldom have a positive, lasting effect."
Again, replace the school professionals with the appropriate library professionals, and this is applicable as well. I am not a leadership expert (just learned some things here and there), but even I know that flexing the "bureaucratic muscle" is a fast way to alienate your workers. A library leader should embody the values of librarianship: service and professionalism. I would add intellectual freedom, respect, fairness, and dignity. The ALA's Code of Ethics may provide some guidance in this regard, but a good library leader goes beyond that as needed.
  • The article defines an ethical dilemma as a choice between two rights, not between right and wrong (a choice between right and wrong is a case that should be a "no brainer" to an ethical person, in my estimation). The article also states that dilemmas when cherished values come into conflict. Leadership is exemplified in facing and solving such conflicts.
  • The article provides some suggestions for resolving ethical dilemmas. One, the leader is willing to act on a solid and definite set of standards. Personally, I have a fairly narrow set of ethics: I know that at times I can be pretty inflexible in things others may see as more gray. As relativistic as I can be, I do believe there are certain ethical standards that are common to decent and ethical people. Getting back to the article, one of the sources cited suggests that some common themes in an ethical vision include caring, justice, and critique (being able to look at yourself and see where you may fall short). Two, be able to examine a dilemma from different perspectives. I will add that once the decision is made, it is made. Third is that leaders often reframe ethical issues. This is often done by finding a third path, avoiding an "either. . .or" situation. This is where some degree of compromise may come in.
  • "In simplest terms, stewardship asks leaders to acknowledge their own human faults and limitations rather than hiding behind their status and power." This boils down to accountability, and I would add a degree of humility as well.
  • "Ethical behavior is not something that can be held in reserve for momentous issues; it must be a constant companion." If you wait until something happens to ask if it is ethical or not, you are not behaving ethically. An informed set of ethics should be second nature, a given.
Now, we are not talking here about the world being black and white, or that there is no room for some flexibility. But we are talking about basic ethical standards, which not only inform leaders but should be part of every professional. And this does include library professionals and workers.

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