It is said that, it is better to start or end with a quote or do both because someone else must have said it better and so I shall start as this is an important matter for leaders. “The most important persuasion tool you have in your arsenal is integrity”; Persuasion to do what? Persuasion to be and do good; persuasion to be hardworking, to be punctual, to be helpful, to be of service, to be industrious and all the good qualities that have been confirmed and reconfirmed to have a positive impact on the overall success of any organization that adheres. Eventually, good qualities, specifically good values, produce all the desired results and eventually all good values merge into one and integrity runs through it.

A CEO pulling into the parking lot ready to walk towards his office but he is not at peace. The budget is not sufficient, the productivity is lagging, the internal relationships are weak, the bottom line is far from targets and even society is unhappy with the company. In short, all that he is supposed to be managing, people, money, assets, capital, time and information have shortcomings. He realizes that in order to fix any of those problems, he needs to make sure company objectives are aligned with the needs of the human assets; in other words, he needs to revisit the state of corporate culture. He has come to realize that it is the people who make things happen and if and when the human asset is managed appropriately the company can make a U turn. He accepts that in as much as all the other duties, management of time, money, capital, etc are handled by humans, when humans are handled correctly they will too.

He acknowledges that it is now common knowledge that good corporate culture has a direct impact on the performance of an organization; it has a direct impact on the bottom line no matter how you measure it.  He knows that if anyone would have been able to run a company successfully purely by technical knowhow, Steve Jobs would have been the man; he understood his products so well that he was considered a technical genius yet he believed it was the people who made Apple successful. “What ruined Apple wasn’t growth.  What ruined Apple were values.  John Sculley ruined Apple and he ruined it by bringing a set of values to the top of Apple which were corrupt and corrupted some of the top people who were there, drove out some of the ones who were not corruptible……” Mr. Jobs noted. Many at Apple and others have attested to the fact that when Mr. Jobs came back and brought with him “good culture” into the company it’s started rising up once again. By the time Steve Jobs died in 2012 Apple had become the largest company in the industry.

Corporate culture and her daughters

Corporate culture is defined by most textbooks as “the set of key values, beliefs, understandings and norms shared by members of an organization”.  The main element of corporate culture is ethics which is “in the broadest sense…a society’s ongoing examination and pursuit of actions and practices that best promote the enrichment of people’s lives both materially and spiritually”.

Ethics definition is varied but this definition which is driven from Aristotelian thought does encompass the major aspects of many definitions of ethics. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman eloquently describes ethics as being the heart of an organization. In as much as good culture is steered by its ethics, that definition stands firm.  Marianne Jennings gave a good analogy on the relationship “Culture is to a company what character is to an individual”.

Another key term in this discussion is morals which are to ethics what ethics is to a healthy corporate culture.  Morals are values, virtues, traditions, beliefs and norms that have been accepted by a given society overtime and often “institutionalized in religious doctrines” and other codes of conduct. It is those good endowments that make us good humans.

There are distinctions made between morality and ethics but the most important is that morals have to do with the understanding of the difference between right and wrong while ethics are set of guidelines, codes of conduct that are intended to inform about acceptable behaviors and where all is ok they are enforceable.  In other words morality reflects our current state of acceptable behavior while ethics evolve by examining where we are and where we should be in terms of attitude and behavior. Morals are over the counter while ethics are prescribed; one is about believing and the other is about adhering.

In as much as ethics derive their understanding from acceptable cultural norms which are extrapolated from acceptable moral values, for purposes of this discussion we will consider the two terms to be interchangeable and especially in a countries where the realm of Caesar and the realm of God are for the most part one and the same.  Yes there are situations where what is moral could be unethical and vise versa (A good example for the contradiction is a lawyer who ethically has to defend his client although he is aware of his guilt, totally immoral but fully ethical) but having ascertained that such instances are limited in frequency in organizational setting, we shall consider morals to be the backbone of ethics.

To summarize, morals are to ethics what an engine is to a car and ethics are to corporate culture what a jokey is to a horse.  Ethics, generally, draw its energy and lighting from morality while good culture for an organization gets steered by ethics. To reiterate, whereby morals are informal and they deal more with the now, ethics are formal and are guidelines of the current and aspired state of culture.

To promote ethics and create a good corporate culture, A CEO need to abide by two requirements; first talk the talk and then walk the talk. Since ethics are not optional as they are an avenue to institutionalize acceptable moralities within an organization, they ought to be enforceable. For something to be enforceable and in order not to leave anything to guesswork; value statements through codes of conducts, manuals, booklets, questionnaires or the likes are crucial in educating people about ethics and the aspired-upon corporate codes of conduct, corporate culture.

A CEO must push for vigorous and continuous education on ethics to a point where employees are verse with acceptable codes of conduct just as well as they are with technical matters such as the use of software.  “And remind for reminding is beneficial for those who believe”. Ethics govern relationships between managers and employees, stake holders and even relationships with society but the purpose of this writing is to focus on the ethics governing internal relationship of a firm, the relationships between leadership and employees. In walking the walk, a CEO seeks to ensure that all is clear as it relates to ethics, no assumption and nothing is left to chance. In fact, if possible all new staff member should be required to make a tour de ethics and meet members from varied departments to hear what their colleagues have to say about ethics and its importance in that culture.

Once internal rules of the game are coded and clarified through value statements and otherwise, then the job becomes of modeling and follow-ups; that is a more tricky part, walking the talk.  Being an example of ethical behavior is so critical for a leader that even if we start with walking the talk before any ethical guidelines are set; we would still have a positive impact on corporate culture.  Communicating acceptable ethics in formal ways as discussed is critical and ensures that no one behaves unethically due to ignorance but, I reiterate, the most important communication is through setting practical examples; specifically by the CEO.

If ethics are a vehicle to formalize acceptable conduct then the driver is definitely the CEO, he needs to lead by examples. Consistent identification of corporate ethics with corporate culture through deeds by leaders will result in the disappearance of ethics as such; ethics and culture will be one and the same.

By consistent transmission of queues through ethical conducts, a CEO is in fact a living example of how one should live within an organization and can ultimately make staff become role models for society at large. Before a CEO can become a positive role model however, he needs to be ethical himself, he needs not only command the good and forbid the evil, he needs to take a sword against evil and do good.  All the talk about ethics ultimately converges into one word mentioned in earlier quote: INTEGRITY.


“In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy”. Upholding of attitudes and actions that have been identified and formalized as being acceptable is what ethics entails; Integrity is its spiritual guardian. It is not possible to list all the areas where integrity is invoked, but we shall list a few examples we deem to be the most important.

In as much as humans share many important values, many ethics have a universal appeal but some cultural differences have been observed. The following are examples of the most important areas of where integrity is brought into question.


Being humble is a serious issue within many working environments especially among those holding leadership positions.  Being arrogant or otherwise succumbing to cheer leaders of arrogance like inaccessibility or inapproachability is often a mechanism used by many people of position to solidify the boss image.  Not only does that make it impossible to align corporate objectives to the needs of dignity of the human assets but it has other problems as well.

When a CEO highnesses himself in such a fashion, the consequence is too often to have staff or even managers kissing up to them to be on their good side.  In which case, hypocrisy, not honesty is reinforced for those who wish to advance by satisfying the boss’s egotistical needs. As for those who are ethical and have both the correct attitude and aptitude, frictions are to be expected. Where status matters to such an extent, progress by merit is compromised. In some organizations, the problem is so ingrained that those unwilling to accept the corrupt status quo often either leave their jobs or are pressured into leaving through hellish experiences.

Integrity demands accuracy and consistency of principles and arrogance is neither. For those of us whose demeanor and expressions might suggest luck of humility special effort must be exerted to kill any perception of arrogance. Arrogant leaders or with perceived proud-ness, make fertile land for creating grudges and real or perceived injustices.

A CEO’s or anyone else for that matter has an ally in believing in transcendence to resist the vanity that comes with power.  Believing in something bigger than one’s self would greatly reduce the temptation or willingness to behave arrogantly with an employee or anyone else for that matter.  “He who has even an atom’s worth of arrogance won’t enter heaven”.  Power, real power, doesn’t come through arrogance but through humbleness. Let people hand you over the power by being powerful, by being humble.



A big part of living the good life, living ethically, a CEO must ensure that employees, all employees, understand and have a clear compass of what the company is doing and where it is headed. The feeling of involvement for an employee is critical as a good chunk of her life is spent at work; work and the time spent at work is considerable share of one’s life.  Besides, for most people, dignity is strongly tied to their jobs so make them important by involving them and know that they do matter.

I recently visited a city which is clearly catching up with its infrastructural lag and the whole city was a virtual road construction site.  The few days I spent in the city I felt a sense of uneasiness and sense of frustration by the delays caused by the road works. I then came to discover that most of my anguish was caused by the sheer lack of transparency for what was being done. No bill boards, no signs, no TV announcements, nothing to show what the whole mayhem was about or when it would end; I am quite confident that the situation was even more frustrating for the residents of the city.  Just by making it clear to the motorists what was being done for them and what would be the final outcome of the works, I am sure they would have been more patient about the disturbance and so would I.

There is nothing too important in the company that some people have to be kept in the dark unless it is the kind of information whose sharing would be unethical in itself; indeed part of good leadership is to know when and how to disclose information.  But keeping staff informed about the company state and the direction its pursuing is an act of integrity as it exemplary of honesty, respect, openness and inclusiveness.  When leaders open up, it shows that they have nothing to hide; no corruption, no unfairness, no foul play and no injustice or unfairness.  More importantly they impart a sense of importance and involvement into their employees.

Justice and Fairness

If a CEO wishes to murder morale within an organization then let him be unfair or be perceived to be as unjust.  Favoritism can kill moral so swiftly and so deeply but unfortunately is an all familiar problem within many corporations. The problem usually starts during hiring and continues thereafter. If we assume that hiring was done fairly and people were chosen for their abilities, including having a good attitude, then we are lucky for we have at least chosen the correct people. Then it remains the maintenance of morale.

A CEO needs to set the highest standards of justice and he needs to do so with integrity. Not only does he need to ensure that he is fair to all people but he needs to make sure that his subordinates from top management to low level staff perceive him/her as being fair.  CEO’s cannot enjoy the same freedoms their staffs do. For example, CEO befriending of staff members could easily be translated as favoritism and could lead to frustration and to fracturing of internal relationships; or at the very least could result in the perception of unfairness which is just as devastating in their impact on staff motivation and overall morale.

Fairness is one of those things that a CEO needs to practice, promote and investigate to understand how staffs perceive him as it relates to fairness.  In this case, perception of unfairness is just as devastating as the real thing. When the image needs propping the leader shouldn’t be timid or shy about explaining if one is honesty.


More often than not, people in organizations and even society get empowered just by what they see.  When they see a humble, transparent, fair and just, hardworking, understanding and kind leader; they get truly empowered.  A humble leader translates into an approachable accessible figure whose support can be sought.  What can be feared or resented from a fair, just and hard working leader! Empowerment can be done by other technical means such good working environment, reasonable deadlines and a general sense of a good working life but behaving ethically remains the core.  A CEO of a large corporation might not be able to tend to everyone personally but when he is an embodiment of ethical living, it will trickle down through his directors and managers and he will see to it that it happens.


When a CEO has the qualities and values discussed above, it becomes difficult not to trust him.  Why wouldn’t anyone trust an understanding and fair person? It is only the importance of trustworthiness as the backbone of integrity that I elaborate on it.  Usually an honest person comes across as trustworthy and as such it is important to highlight honesty as well.  When a CEO says that he will see to it that the work environment improves but he either is not sure how he will accomplish it or said so in the heat of the moment he risks coming across as dishonest, untrustworthy and ultimately lacks integrity. Often such actions are taken merely for immediate gratification and the result is lost credibility.

To be trusted a CEO needs to trust just as much as the wish to be trusted.  When delegating work or role modeling he needs to trust that it will be done. There is nothing naïve about trusting; you have to trust so that you are trusted as well. If there is no trust even operational matters are impacted.

Competency and Ethics

Competency is one of those words which on face value appear to be technical and hardly arouse any thoughts about ethics; other similar words include proactive, efficiency and productivity.  The presumption is that anyone who becomes a CEO or equivalent leadership position is competent to handle the duties and responsibilities demanded by it. If and when a CEO is not competent all sorts of alarm bells start ringing. This is a position that practically has no on-duty training and has no probation period as the serious work starts from the first hour.

Competency is integral in maintaining integrity.  How can one uphold or be role model for that matter if he is not capable of executing his duties which include being a role model for corporate culture? Courage is an ethical trait that comes with competency and so is anticipation and being proactive. It is often the case that very senior leaders avoid meetings with staff or meetings which they feel unprepared for because they fear being found out. Where a CEO is not fully competent he will make major mistakes which will compromise his authority as the custodian of ethics.

Incompetency results in missed deadlines, unfulfilled promises or under delivering.  All of which eventually lead to mistrust and what is integrity but trustworthiness.  When one is unable to deliver you start hearing stories of blame and scapegoat. It is the same old story, it is not me to blame about the state of the roads; it is the minister.  Worse yet, when a CEO is spoon-fed he exposes himself to the will of his subordinates or being blamed for taking credit that isn’t his and what a rampant problem that is in many organizations. The CEO is responsible and accountable-both important elements of integrity- to everything within an organization and competency are one main ally.  A CEO has the power and opportunity to make not so ethical staff become ethically oriented but also could corrupt good employees if his ethics are compromised.

The issue of cultural competency is critical as well as most core ethics are cultivated from societal norms and acceptable values and behaviors.  In a globalized world, no CEO will be able to lead in a Muslim country without knowing the core values of Islam for example; without basic understanding, sooner or later he will falter.  Confidence is the grandson of competency and both are needed for a CEO to make courageous and correct ethical decisions.


Integrity cannot coexist with inconsistency.  Ethical living, specifically integrity, is a lifelong endeavor and the struggle to attain it can’t be allowed to rest. It is unfortunate that one lapse in ethical judgment can ruin a person’s reputation and hinder his ability to be an example. If for example, a CEO passing through the corridors of an organization has the habit of greeting a group of staff while passing others quietly is risking being or at the least be perceived to be unbalanced.  While the incident itself is benign and might pass by unnoticed, problems could arise later on when a CEO makes decision against someone from the group of staff that he appeared to be cold towards, be it fair or unfair, as long as simple conducts like the one mentioned above pile up, there will be unfairness or perceived unfairness.

Not every good conduct gets noticed or one gets a patting on the shoulder for it but nevertheless one ought to be vigilant about because the benefits are always around the corner; consistency always pays in the end. A motorist who obeys all the driving laws doesn’t receive a call from the department of motor vehicle at the end of the year to come pick up a reward check or a pat on the back but the second he crosses a red light he gets penalized or worse yet could get killed. His prize comes in the form of safety, reduced insurance cost, avoiding unnecessary delays and keeping his car in good shape.

Robert Fulghum noted a great story in his book UH-huh on the value of doing things for internal satisfaction and to do so consistently more so than the need to adhere to external pressures. One day he visited a friend and spent the night with him. In the morning as they left the house to go to town his host passed by a news stand to pick up a news paper.  When there, his friend greeted the news vendor but received no reply so he paid for the paper and they left. As they were walking away his friend said: I don’t have luck with that guy, every time I greet him he doesn’t greet me back. Don’t greet him again then, protested Mr. Fulghum.  No, that will make him influence my principles, I will not let him dictate my behavior, calmly replied his friend.

Another more powerful example of integrity; the prophet Mohammad was once heading an army of thousands of men headed to battle. On the way and in the middle of the desert and on the horizon where the army was directly heading there laid a bitch (female dog) breastfeeding her young. The profit PBUH promptly ordered his man to shift course as not to disturb the feeding cubs. Be good to all creatures was his way of life and despite the number of soldiers involved he wasn’t going to compromise his way of life.

Ethical behavior and integrity go hand in hand and the terms that signify integrity are so many that discussing them all will amount to repetitions and they all eventually merge into the same stream.  Other key words for a CEO to become whole or integer in Latin are service, conviction, responsibility, credibility, patience, piety, modesty, caring and many others.  For the purposes of a discussion on ethical living at work environment and beyond, all the important terms needed to make a human or a worker become good cultured, have been dealt with. One word if adhered to fully can be enough to lend a man in heaven not merely running a corporation, INTEGRITY.


Once a CEO has been exemplary of good attitude and behavior and has been a walking manifesto for ethical living, he now has the right and duty to enforce the same to the rest of the company.  In enforcing, a CEO is giving more living examples of integrity.  The rules of engagement have been set in value statements, detailed in codes of conducts and been exemplified in the CEO’s conduct and consistently. Now the CEO has a duty to ensure that all staff member adhere to the same principles.

Provided that enforcement of the law is reserved for the unpopular, as top level enforcement officer, a CEO must get accustomed to being unpopular especially in the short term.  Consistency of action is a virtue on its own right but when it comes to enforcement of acceptable codes of conduct it becomes THE virtue.  Doing the right thing doesn’t have to always feel right but it is always prudent not to go against ones values as the gap between action and words can disturb anybody with integrity.

Enforcement can be through rewards (positive reinforcements), punishments (negative reinforcements) or the use of experts in the area of ethics. Rewards come in the form of money, promotion or status and punishment entail the opposite and could even result in dismissal.  The use of ethical experts could also be a strong enforcement mechanism. Where for instance, staff are predominantly Muslims, it is great reinforcement to invite respected clerics to remind them of the value of ethical living in the eyes of Allah. What more reinforcement can one give to a good Muslim than confirming to them that their conduct has far bigger rewards than the company can ever offer?

In the fight for persuasion, persuasions for good, where the realm of Caesar don’t conflict with realm of God, use God. When it is effective to use religious enforcements to persuade, then do it with good intentions. For Muslim’s, the CEO of everything of value remains the prophet Mohammad. Use his teachings to instill kindness, fairness, service, hardworking, honesty and so on and so forth. Remind people as many times as possible and in many ways as possible and you shall be reminded.  There is nothing wrong in using God to influence people of God and most people are people of God in one intensity or another.

Gray Areas

Reinforcement has one unfortunate thing and that is, the higher the position the grayer the area of ethics becomes. At CEO level, in making decisions there are many more things to consider; Society, stakeholders, suppliers, consumers, and even the staff psychosocial situation of the moment; sometimes that can make decisions very difficult indeed.  What is more is that not all immoral or slips of ethical judgments are equal in intensity or in the damage caused and thus treating all ethical violations in black and white manner can make a leader lose his sleep.

A staff member who is considered by his coworkers as competent with his work and generally has good ethics but suffers from an almost chronic punctuality problem. He is known to be abusing alcohol and has been warned re-warned and even placed under probation but to no avail. On top of it all, the CEO has met the wife and the two beautiful daughters of the delinquent employee aged two and five and they solely depend on his job for survival; in just that simple example there are multiple factors to consider.

When decisions are tough to make, more technical mechanisms of enforcing ethics are needed for reinforcement is not the job of one person but a team effort. Allies in gray areas are first and foremost courage and wisdom to choose the right course of action; courage because not all decisions are popular nor will they always feel right and wisdom because not all matters of decisions is black and white. When one is unsure of what to do he can do what Napoleon Hill suggests in his book think and grow rich. Call upon consultants of wisdom; contemplate what people like Gandhi, Mandela or even Mohammad himself would have done is such a predicament.  Or as a writer suggests, another way to hold oneself accountable and judging his decisions well is to imagine his decision on a given matter on an international network and imagine how people will judge him.

If that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere set up a special committee within an organization. The committee ought to be composed of people from varied departments, multiethnic and include both sexes and from all levels. Give them the duty to come up with the final decisions and admit that the matter is gray and decision is tough.  Explain your reasons in detail as to where and why you are struggling. A decision arrived by a cocktail of peers jurors is likely to be appropriate and sends a positive message within and beyond the organization and what a good way to involve subordinates in such critical decisions and what a chance to remind them that you are just human. In fact, some companies have embedded into their corporate cultures a body to monitor the state of ethics at all times.  Ethics manager and internal and external auditors are other more technical monitors.


No doubt that good ethics create good corporate culture which in turn ensures long term benefits for the company, staff and community at large.  Integrity is the key to all good values which are ultimately the fueling rods for ethical conduct. When people have been educated about acceptable ethics through manuals value statements and detailed codes of conduct and a CEO has been exemplifying both, the stage is set for enforcement. Enforcement of ethical matters can sometimes be very tough especially for leaders in which case involve others in the decision making process. Do it for good or for bad if necessary.

Tags: , , , , ,
Corporate Culture: A CEO’s primary mandate0saasma2013-03-28 19:28:40Introduction

It is said that, it is better to start or end with a quote or do both because someone else must have said it better and so I shall sta…

Corporate Culture: A CEO’s primary mandateIntroduction

It is said that, it is better to start or end with a quote or do both because someone else must have said it better and so I shall sta…