A fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review this month suggests that there may be more than a moral imperative to behave well at work. If the research by leadership consultancy KRW International is to be believed, business leaders who were rated highly by their employees for their qualities of integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion demonstrated a higher return on assets for their businesses than those who were scored badly for the same character traits. Author Fred Kiel does offer some comfort for CEO lowlifes however, by suggesting that character can be cultivated with the aid of reflection and feedback from colleagues.
It might be interesting to see some similar research in the field of professional services. On the face of things, the "promotion to partner tournament" in many professional services firms would not necessarily seem calculated to encourage trust between colleagues or to promote positive character traits.
This is however further fuel for the idea that ethical business is good business; and that whatever the field, an ongoing appraisal of the ethical culture of an enterprise is not just an optional extra.
When we hear about unethical executives whose careers and companies have gone down in flames, it’s sadly unsurprising. Hubris and greed have a way of catching up with people, who then lose the power and wealth they’ve so fervently pursued. But is the opposite also true? Do highly principled leaders and their organizations perform especially well?