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Ethical Leadership - Part 1
By Mike Raneses, Parole Agent, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation
Published: 02/01/2010

Leadership Part 1- A New Paradigm

Establishing and maintaining a healthy organizational culture in corrections is a multifaceted process, involving wise personnel selection, comprehensive ethics training, appropriate employee discipline and, the focus of this article, ethical leadership.

For several years, I have conducted ethics training for leaders and managers in my agency, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. During one of these training sessions, a correctional captain spoke up, “I’ll listen to what you have to say about ethics when you convince me that the upper echelon of this Department behaves ethically.” Of course, we should expect the designated leaders of an agency to behave ethically. How can leaders expect ethical conduct from their staff when they are not willing to lead by example?

Let’s begin our discussion of ethical leadership with a question that may not be as obvious as it seems: In a criminal justice organization, who are the leaders? Sergeants? Lieutenants? Managers? Administrators? Consider this paradigm: Not only are these we have just mentioned leaders, but all staff are leaders and share the responsibility for ethical leadership and the ethical climate of their organization.

In 2001, I was involved in the development and implementation of a program now known as the International Public Safety Leadership and Ethics Institute (IPSLEI), a unique leadership initiative designed to bring the concepts of leadership and ethics to the forefront of an individual’s career, rather than waiting until a person is promoted into a supervisory position. This program is based on the belief that one need not be a supervisor or manager to understand leadership principles and contribute to the leadership process. A cornerstone of the program is that effective leadership skills and influences are needed at all levels of the organization.

The IPSLEI is focused on an established vision, and supported by a mission statement and a statement of values and beliefs. The vision of the program is exceptional leadership throughout public safety organizations, while its mission is to develop quality leaders at all levels of public safety organizations through innovative leadership and ethics education. Foundational values and beliefs include that leadership is action, not position, and in the context of community, is shared among all members. Further, that leaders have a broad responsibility to enhance the quality of life in their organizations, and that truly effective leaders are anchored to positive values and ethical decision-making.

The overall program of IPSLEI consists of four courses of growth designed to lead the participant on a learning journey, which includes: developing a personal philosophy of leadership; leading others; organizational leadership; and ethics and the challenge of leadership.

Key to encouraging staff to embrace a vision for shared responsibility for ethical leadership within the organization, is helping them see their own potential and responsibility for leadership. Further, staff are helped to see that leadership skills can be developed and exercised no matter what their position within the organization.

While the definitions of leadership may be varied, through the IPSLEI, three distinct and constant assumptions about leadership are presented: within every individual there exists leadership potential, leadership can be taught, and developing a personal leadership philosophy is a pre-requisite to learning and applying leadership skills. This training does not assert that there is a science of leadership or a simple formula that can be applied; however, effective leaders throughout history have exhibited, to a significant degree, certain practices and skills.

Thomas Cronin, one of the authors whose writings are used in IPSLEI, offers seven key ingredients to successful leadership:
  • Leaders are people who know who they are and know where they are going. “What a man thinks about himself,” Thoreau wrote, “this is what determines, or rather indicates his fate.” Successful leaders have learned the valuable lesson that ultimately you are the one who is responsible for you. They don’t blame others, they don’t blame circumstances, they simply take charge and help move the enterprise forward.
  • Selecting important problems and then mobilizing one’s followers as well as one’s self to tackle, solve and overcome these priority problems. Too many people become overwhelmed with trivia, with constant close encounters of a third rate. Nothing is worth doing on a larger scale unless the consequences are serious. Leaders have always to focus on the major problems of the day, and on the higher aspirations and needs of their followers. Leaders need to be able to discover their own strengths and the strengths of those with whom they work. They have to learn how to share and to delegate. They have to be able to make people believe they are important, that they are or can be winners.
  • Leaders have to provide the risk-taking, entrepreneurial imagination for their organizations and communities. Leaders are able to see things in a different and fresh context. Mark Twain once said, “A man is viewed as a crank until his idea succeeds.” Leaders get an organization interested in what is going to become, not what has been. Creative leadership requires also not being afraid to fail. The best way to have inventive ideas is to have lots of ideas, and to have an organization that welcomes fresh ideas-whatever their merit.
  • Leaders need to have a sense of humor and a sense of proportion. Leaders take their work seriously, but do not take themselves too seriously. Humor relieves strain and enables people to relax and see things in a slightly different or fresh light. Effective leaders can usually tell a joke, and take a joke. As Adlai Stevenson put it, “If I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t live – especially in politics.” In this same light, leaders need to be able to share the credit. Dwight Eisenhower had a slogan that he tried to live by which went as follows, “There’s no telling how much one can accomplish so long as one doesn’t need to get all the credit for it.”
  • Leaders have to be skilled mediators and negotiators, but they also have to stir things up, and encourage healthy and desired conflict. An old Peanuts cartoon has a dejected Charlie Brown coming off the softball field as the game concludes. In exasperation he whines, “How can we lose when we are so sincere?” Sincerity or purity of heart are not enough to succeed in challenging leadership jobs. The strength of a leader often lies in his tenacity, in knowing how to deal with competing factions, knowing when to amplify conflict, when to escalate conflict, and when to move an organization or community away from paralyzing divisiveness and toward a vision of the common good.
  • A leader has to have brains and breadth. Today’s leaders must widen their perspectives and lengthen the focal point of their thinking. Vision is the ability to see all sides of an issue and to eliminate biases. Vision and breadth of knowledge put one in a strategic position – preventing the leader from falling into the trap of shortsightedness.
  • Finally, an effective leader must have integrity, arguably the most central of leadership qualities. A leader must be able to see people in all of their relationships, in the wholeness of their lives and not just as a means to getting a job done, as a means for enhanced productivity. Some may call this character; others would call it authenticity, compassion or empathy. Whatever we call it, character and integrity are much easier kept than recovered.

I trust that this discussion has helped you see leadership in a new light. While there are individuals in an organization who are given the titles and responsibility for specific areas of leadership, all members of the organization can be viewed as leaders in their own spheres of influence.

Next week, we will look more specifically at the “ethics” component of ethical leadership, and review some practical aspects of ethical behavior and decision-making. After all, as ethicist Michael Josephson says, “Ethics is an action concept; it is not simply an idea to think or argue about."

Part 2: Making it Practical


"Address to the Western Academy of Management," Thomas E. Cronin, published in "To Lead or Not To Lead," 1995, Phi Theta Kappa, Jackson, MS.

“Making Ethical Decisions,” Michael Josephson, 1992, The Josephson Institute, Los Angeles, CA

Mike Raneses is a 40-year criminal justice veteran with service as a Deputy Sheriff, Probation Officer, and most currently as a Parole Agent with the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. He resides in Tustin, CA with his wife Ruth where they lead Corrections Staff Fellowship, an organization designed to help staff maintain their faith and values while walking “The Toughest Beat in the Nation.”


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