Africa Business and News World

LEADERSHIP FAILURE, ETHICS AND CULTURE

By Dr.(Chief) Hyacinth Nwachukwu

The purpose of this write-up is to analyze critically, but very succinctly, two hypothetical organizations, A & B, that embrace the culture that says “Customers are always right,” and “Customer needs drive our work,” respectively, in the light of deplorable ethical and cultural settings in which Nigeria finds itself. Let us take for instance that organization “A” dominated the market in a particular product in the late 50’s and 60’s until other competitive interests, such as organization “B” entered the market in similar product, and became the world’s largest producer due to its superior strategic alignment and profound leadership qualities that were designed to suit its main purpose and objectives: enhancement of profitability and pursuit of harmonious growth based on “product quality, efficiency, cost awareness, and integrity.” It stands to reason that the secret behind the success of organization “B” reveals that its leadership and employees embraced the culture that says “Customer needs drive our work,” and “Customers are always right.” Does this paradigm ring bell in Nigeria?

Ethics can be defined as a set of codes of conduct that subsists within a business entity. Apparently, it forms the basis of people’s actions, behavior and decisions. The genesis of organizational ethics could be traced to the 1960s that ushered in the era of corporate social responsibility as embraced by large organizations and subsequent emergence of public interests in “consumerism and “Environmental Protectionism” (Webley, 2006). Today, ethical integrity in leadership, and moral culture in most organizations, both public and private, are being compromised, and this has given rise to ethical dilemmas and failures in most developing countries, such as in Nigeria, and other West African countries. Similarly, the same problem led to the Enron and the World Com financial debacle in the US, involving “bribery” and “insider trading.” This was not only an ethical violation, but mainly corruption in nature; hence, the officials involved were convicted and sent to jail, a deterrent measure for future offenders.. Consequently, this episode heightened the need for organizational leaders to establish and adhere to high standard of ethical behavior that was reinforced by a piece of legislation passed by the Congress of the United States in 2002 called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, popularly known as “SOX”, thus mandating corporations trading under provisions of the Security and Exchange Commission of 1934 to publish their codes of ethics and any changes thereof, where applicable (Millage, 2005). The Nigerian government should adopt similar measure to avert the impending economic vicissitude that the country is likely to encounter in view of the current wave of corruption in high places coupled with a sudden drop in oil prices.

In contrast, a number of conclusions have been drawn from case studies and research justifying a direct link between ethical leadership and organizational moral culture (Wilkins, 1984; Schein, 1992; Cartwright & Cooper, 1993; Senge, 2006). It stands to reason that organizational culture typically manifests itself in relation to people’s values and behaviors shaped over time (Schein, 1985). Corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of our society. Therefore, it will demand a considerable amount of time to establish high ethical and moral principles that may change the moral culture of most developing countries, in particular. The assumption is that organizational culture is a direct result of the activities or leadership styles of corporate leaders; hence they create and manage the prevailing culture, in which case, desirable change could only be effected when a good leader “unties” the existing culture and replaces it with a different model and ultimately “ties” the new assumptions into the subconscious of the business organization (Cooke and Szumal, 2000). In, change can only occur in an organization where managers and leaders primarily seek and create favorable atmosphere for it to flourish, thus, creating an awareness that attracts change and gaining the support of those whose responsibility is to implement and enforce the change (Senge, 2006).

In order to avert the dangers of repeated failures in the system, the culture of sustainability should be made part of the mindset of the Nigerian leaders, in general. Culture becomes sort of social glue that cements leaders and followers together and expresses the values, beliefs and social ideals that the entire group share. Therefore, the shaping of organizational/leadership culture lies on the degree of commitment by all stake holders toward the set of values, irrespective of the body that generates them; this will help to determine the ethical environment of the Nigerian business organizations, cum civil societies.

The problem of leadership failures in Nigeria can, also, be attributable to gross disregard, and violation of Ethical codes of conduct which corporate officials or leaders swore to uphold; hence, they chose the wrong path of bribery, and corruption practices. They failed to practice what they preach. Corporate leaders are obligated to foster ethical working environment and culture by demonstrating and modeling the vitality and commitment to ethics through appropriate decision-making practices, and adherence to rules and regulations. This simply brings us to the issue of respect for tradition, culture, laws, or rules and regulations, which most leaders take for granted. Laws in general should be considered as vital guiding principles aimed at maintaining order in our society. As a matter of fact, laws are meant to set limits to our freedom and at the same time enable us to respect the freedom of our fellow citizens. Similarly, respect for laws tend to breed sense of harmony, comfort, and most importantly security; hence, lack of respect for laws or rules and regulations always brings disorder, corruption, and chaos in the society.

Dr. H. U. Nwachukwu
Baltimore, Maryland

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