Address to P.E.O. International
Founders’ Day Luncheon
My focus today will be on the principles of leadership which are grounded in ethics, and on how compatible these principles are for women’s ways of encountering life and others.
As a result of my academic preparation, my professional experience and my personal values, I have developed my own perspectives on, and commitment to, ethical leadership. Let me provide some context for the presentation of my position on women’s leadership as ethical leadership. My academic preparation was in Philosophy. The focus of my Master’s thesis was ethics and world religions, and of my Doctoral dissertation was an ethical dimension of political philosophy: one’s obligation and opportunity for dissent in a democracy. In all of these studies, I found a strong underpinning of ethical theory. As a teacher in all elementary grades, as a faculty member in Philosophy departments of several colleges and universities, and as an academic administrator at all levels of higher education, my professional experience has been characterized by a strong commitment to applying ethical standards to my own performance and decision making. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will also tell you that my personal values are grounded in the religious traditions of Jewish and Christian ethics and the principles of a democratic/pluralistic society. In my personal experience, I have been a daughter, sibling, spouse, parent, student and teacher, mentee and mentor, employee and employer, supervisor, coach, and friend. Each of these experiences has contributed to my understanding of the role and value of women’s leadership in the varied contexts of our lives. A final thing you should know about me as I explain my view of ethical leadership is that my favorite animal is the giraffe, since I find it to be an excellent symbol of leadership in its ability to keep its feet on the ground while being willing to lift its head above the crowd to get a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the landscape and a perspective on ‘the bigger picture’.
When I was an undergraduate in Philosophy, I was required to take a course in Social Philosophy. The instructor entered the room on the first day of class and began the session with the following comment: “Jean Paul Sartre tells us that hell is other people. This course is about other people. Welcome to hell.” Needless to say, he got our attention! Although dealing with others can be a challenge, it is essential to our nature as social beings. Women especially recognize that life is all about our relationships with others, difficult as these relationships might sometimes be. Relationships express the interplay of needs and desires, the conflict between right and wrong actions, the intersection of individual and collective rights and responsibilities. This is the domain of ethics: how we relate to others through our choices and our priorities. And this is an area where women excel.
In her book “In a Different Voice”, Dr. Carol Gilligan demonstrates the results of her research about women’s ways of viewing ethical responsibilities. Having noted through her career that historic ethical theories evolved from a masculine perspective of the world, human nature and moral obligations, Dr. Gilligan decided to focus her research of how women view these realities and how they make ethical decisions. Her evidence shows that women’s ethics are grounded in relationships, in recognizing their role in being with and for others. A traditional masculine-based ethical approach differs from women’s ethics in that, for the masculine perspective, justice is the main ground for ethical decisions: what is clearly right and wrong, rather than considering the complex reality of conflicting obligations based on relationships.
At the heart of Confucian philosophy are five essential human relationships, each obligated by ethical reciprocity. In each pair of relationships, the parties are bound by commitment to mutual rights and responsibilities: my right is your responsibility; your right is my responsibility. While this theory recognizes a hierarchy of relationships, some overriding others, it also recognizes the complexity of being in relationships.
Just as there are multiple and conflicting theories of ethics, there are multiple and conflicting theories of leadership. However, they all address the essential reality of human relationships and choices. Leadership is inwardly developed and outwardly directed, as is ethics. We develop (and constantly refine) our theory and then decide our actions and attitudes toward others based on our inner commitment to certain principles and values. Thus, while exercising our own adaptation of leadership theory, we need to develop our own ethical theory based on principles which seem sound, reasonable and effective for us as women. Key to any theory of ethical leadership will be how we see others and our relationships to them. Not all leadership theories are comfortable for women, who believe that leadership is about others. There is not leadership without others to lead. Women believe that leaders emerge at all levels of society and organizations, and one need not have a high position to motivate others and to effect change.
Marion Anderson, whom we know from her outstanding operatic career, has said: “Leadership should be born out of understanding the needs of those who would be affected by it.” A discipline within Philosophy which helps put ‘others’ in perspective is philosophical anthropology (or theories of human nature).Today we see offshoots of this discipline in such fields as sociology, psychology, organizational theory…to name a few. The ancient philosophers claimed that humans share a common nature, and that we all ‘wonder’ about who and what we are, what we need, what we value, how we live together, and other questions related to our humanness. If we are essentially the same (in a philosophical sense: that is, we have the same essence or nature), then learning about ourselves is related to learning about others, and learning about others is related to understanding ourselves. For those who believe and act on the principle that leadership is more about others than about self, it is important to seek to understand the others with and for whom they work.
An age-old ethical tenet is to “do to others as you would have them do to you”, or, in the negative, “do not do to others what you would not have them do to you”. How simple a rule for ethical leadership! It translates into understanding the needs and abilities of others, sympathizing with them in their crises and other ‘downs’; celebrating their successes and other ‘ups’; motivating and encouraging them when they need a ‘push’; modeling behaviors by personal example when they need a ‘pull’; setting reasonable but challenging expectations and standards when they need goals; and directing them toward achievement and performance when they seek self-actualization. Such a theory and practice of ethical leadership includes being there for those you lead. It assumes caring about them as persons as you lead them to higher achievement. And who do this better than women!
Finding meaning in life will always involve others. In living, we learn that life is not about ‘me’ but about ‘us’. Our greatest joys, deepest sorrows, most noble deeds, greatest challenges, most satisfying achievements, will always be linked to others either directly or indirectly. We know the words of a famous poem: “No man is an island; no man stands alone”. Throughout a lifetime, we are members of many communities, and a key to living together with others is to seek the common good of all; to look beyond self-interest and to work for the general conditions which contribute to everyone’s growth and advantage. The balance we should seek between self-interest and the common good is found in service. Serving others is part of our life’s mission, and our life will be judged on how well we fulfill that mission. Our lives and leadership are characterized by caring about and for others. In our relationships with others, we might consider this play on the letters of the word OTHERS. Thinks of others and lead others with : O: Openness; T: Thankfulness; H: Helpfulness; E: Empathy; R: Respect; S: Service. We women find these characteristics quite compatible with our values.
Ethical leaders will bring others along with them through broad empowerment, not just through ‘succession planning’. Such leaders do not ‘climb over others on the ladder of success’, but rather embrace and encourage others to help bring them to a higher place. In one version of Buddhist philosophy, the greatest ‘saints’ are the ones who, in life and death, work to bring others into Nirvana…even postponing personal entrance into that post-life state until many more can participate in that reward.
Ethical leaders understand the limitations of human nature, and are neither afraid nor hesitant to show their own humanness as an example which further empowers others to recognize and respond to their own humanness.. One cannot form the word EGO from the term ‘ethical leadership’, because there is not ‘g’ and no ‘o’. For ethical leaders, it is acceptable to admit of failure and to learn from it…and to have those they lead do likewise. Ethical leaders admit their need to learn more by recognizing that they do not know everything, and by demonstrating that they cannot do everything by themselves and thus, that they need the help of others in serving others.
An ethical leader will not only lead others, but will also serve them. It is interesting to note that the first place women achieved leadership in society was in the caring professions: nursing, education, social work. While such is not the case today, since there are women leaders in every field, we continue to recognize that the better we serve others with and for whom we work, the more effective will be our leadership.
Data show that many of the most successful businesses are those which care about and empower the employees to be more successful.To LEAD others in this context, one must LISTEN, Encourage, Accept Responsibility, and DISPERSE CREDIT. At Carlow University, we capture our culture of caring about each other in the living phrase: At Carlow, I Matter. This is more than a marketing slogan; it reflects the reality of our values.
“Administration” is a word grounded in Latin roots, meaning ‘to minister to’. Leadership is about empowering others more than about personal entitlement. Ethical leadership abhors the five ‘P’s’ of some versions of leadership: Position, Power, Prestige, Privilege, and Perks. The ethical leader knows that the only P which matters is Persons. Ethical Leadership is not a solo act. It is about principle combined with valuing relationships. Basic ethical principles which foster this style of leadership include the recognition that others are ‘ends in themselves’, not ‘means to ends’. As ‘ends in themselves’, persons have intrinsic value and ought not be used and abused in relationships.
There are daily challenges for a leader who believes and acts on ethical principles with a focus on others. I suggest five examples of the challenges experienced in implementing the principles of valuing and empowering others.
- Communication: Many problems can be avoided with good communication which is grounded in respect for others. Communication should be based on a willingness to share and seek information, on a desire to effectively shape and convey messages clearly, and on being ready to listen and not just to be the speaker or message-giver. In a busy daily schedule, this can be a challenge, but it is of the utmost importance to a leader who values others.
- Delegation: Sharing responsibilities with others requires trust in their ability to accomplish the task assigned. With constructive feed-back and guidance, the ethical leader will help others to develop their skills, but there is no denying that this takes time and patience.
- Decision-Making: Every leader must be responsible for making the final decision which move the organization ahead. The ethical leader will seek to hear from others before making decisions, and will give credit to them for their contributions to the decision or positive outcome. This also takes time and trust in others in the process of reaching decisions and achieving success. In applying principles and values to decision-making, the ethical leader asks: “How will this decision affect others?” and “How will this decision improve my organization?” rather than “How can I advance myself through this decision?” The ethical leader asks: “Am I treating everyone fairly?” rather than “What will I get out of this decision?”
- Continuous Learning: There is always more to learn about ourselves, others, our organization, the world in which we live, and effective ethical leadership. Again, this requires a commitment of time.
- And Time itself can be a daily challenge. Caught up in the daily tasks of being visionary, fireman, mentor, manager, team leader, public relations expert, financial guru, and other tasks, it is difficult to schedule quiet time for reflection, reading and renewal. But good leaders need to find some ‘retreat’ time to become refreshed for further work.
Genuine self-fulfillment is the actualization of the whole person: the physical, the rational, the spiritual and the moral in a social context. Effective leadership is the actualization of the whole unit in a context of social and moral responsibility and responsiveness. In this process, the ethical leader must be true to herself as an ethical and social person, grounded in reason and guided by conscience. This requires a commitment to values, courage in times of challenge, compassion in working with others, and respect for the contributions of all. Ethical leaders motivate by example, persuade by communication, empower by acknowledging the success of others, and create a culture of ‘serving leaders’ throughout the organization.
Life has a higher purpose than self-satisfaction, and that is responsibility to and for others. Leadership has a higher purpose than personal gain, and that is responsibility to and for others. While leaders who are ethical are not limited to women, nor include all women, it is fair to say that our ways of knowing and valuing are most compatible with an ethical approach to leading.
A few words about the institution I am honored to lead. Women-centered is the distinctive mark of the culture of Carlow University, which sustains a focus on the needs of women; teaching and learning models suited to women from diverse backgrounds; inclusive and collaborative governance and decision-making processes; and opportunities for leadership.
We at Carlow believe that women transform society through their commitment to serving and mentoring others, through their integrity and compassion, through their ability to bring people together and to influence behavior, through their willingness to manage change and resolve conflict by focusing on building positive relationships, and through their high performance in any challenge they face.
However, the transformation women can provide cannot be imposed on our society; it often must infiltrate it. Transformational leadership is difficult since many choose not to be transformed, and there are those who are suspicious of leaders who espouse change.
But we women in leadership positions, often held to higher standards than our brothers or our predecessors, recognize that there is much that needs changing. I find it interesting to note that the words Challenge, Change and Courage have a common bond other than their initial letters. All involve leadership, and all involve the unique skills and values of women who care. It takes courage to change things for the better, yet that is what we do as women leaders facing current and future challenges, and undoing past wrongs.
I take pride in all women leaders for the courage they have demonstrated in accepting the challenge to change their world for the better through their unique form of ethical leadership. They have achieved success in accomplishing what the world needs from them and for their sisters as they strive to bring about those changes which will result in a just and merciful world. I applaud you, the members of P.E.O. International, for your passion to promote educational opportunities for women…recognizing that education is the first step in moving women into both awareness and leadership in their families, communities, organizations and governments. The next step is to insure that their leadership is grounded in principles of ethics and that they recognize their responsibility to others when entrusted with a position of, or an opportunity for, leadership.
-- Dr. Mary Hines, President, Carlow University