The moral kickback to CEO activism

July 17, 2016

The moral kickback to CEO activism

As you can tell, I’ve been supremely interested in CEO activism of late. Obviously, I would be since we launched research on the topic and it seems to have struck a chord. Happily, a friend of mine who is an independent consultant with a deep business background, Ann Graham, sent me a link to a post she wrote on CEO activism that I had not read. I am glad she did. Her post provided additional insight into the moral implications of CEO activism, a critical component indeed that needs mentioning.

Ann quotes David Mayer, a professor at the University of Michigan business school, who studies how people respond to leaders who behave within the moral domain. She writes: “One study (Mayer et al. 2014) examined how ethical leadership can effect how individuals conceive and mentally approach ethical decisions. They found that ethical leadership decreases employees’ moral detachment or ‘moral disengagement’ (the term used in sociology) that leads to unethical decision-making.” If you see or hear your CEO or manager behaving or communicating within moral bounds, it is memorable, lasting and increases your own likelihood of acting with equal integrity. That is the return on speaking up for what you believe in.

As our research showed, the average person does not realize that CEOs are speaking out from a moral authority they feel when they speak up on societal issues related or unrelated to their core business. The average person thinks this act of speaking up is more often tied to media coverage than moral courage. It stands to reason that if your CEO or manager speaks up because he or she believes that some injustice has been done and they want to right the issue on behalf of those less able to speak up or for their employees, it is hard not to apply that ethical stance to your own day-to-day. Integrity can become a habit.

Thanks Ann for pointing this out.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross
lesliegainesross@gmail.com

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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