This paper is a critique of a book on the principles that characterize the journey towards high performance ethics. It provides a set of ten ethical principles that, if embraced, built character and create a high-performance culture in the organization. Three ethical perspectives that relate to the ideas in the book are also given. The paper also provides the underpinning theories and applications of the perspectives to the different scenarios in the book.
In High Performance Ethics, Cantrell and Lucas (2007) demonstrate that ethics and high performance are interrelated concepts in the context of business. The road to long-term success, high performance teams, large customer base, and improved financial gains is possible when the organization integrates high ethical values into its business. In order to achieve better results, firms need to develop a performance culture built on ethical principles. The principles evolve into characters that guide ethical practice and discipline to do what is right, however costly it may be in the short term. In this context, achieving long-term success requires more than “hard work, talent, and commitment”; it calls for integrity in business (Cantrell & Lucas, 2007).
The authors, holding a Christian perspective, reckon that ethics is a product of our moral compass and universal spiritual principles. However, to build character, leaders must “live the principle” and mentor their teams to do so too (Cantrell & Lucas, 2007, p. 35). The book explains a set of ethical principles that, if applied, could lead to high performance and better results. First, leaders need to set priorities and focus on what really matters as captured in a shared and clear mission, vision, and values. This approach would create a high-performance culture. Second, avoiding distractions by focusing on the critical success factors can be a driving force for the organization. Third, the ethical values should be the foundation of the code of behavior in the organization. Fourth, finding a balance between the spiritual and mental component in one’s life would help set and achieve priorities.
The authors also note that honoring the wise and talented is an essential ethical principle. An ethical leader or mentor should aim to maximize the outcomes of the strengths of his or her subordinates. In addition, leaders should pursue ambitions ethically and show unwavering commitment to intercompany relationships, such as M&As. The other ethical principles essential in achieving high-performance include supporting business partners to prosper, speaking the truth, and limiting one’s desires. In sum, the book shows that high-performance ethics constitute the foundation of successful leadership and long-term performance in the 21st-century business world.
The book provides practical ways for incorporating high-performance ethics (HPE) into routine practices. In many ways, the ideas in the book appeal to the altruistic perspective. The book considers ethical leaders to be people “doing the right thing” as opposed to fighting to climb up the corporate ladder (Cantrell & Lucas, 2007, p. 42). They are motivated by the desire to be successful in their current position, build trust, and gear up for greater roles. They also exhibit ethical ambition, characterized by “humility and confidence” in one’s actions (Cantrell & Lucas, 2007). In the context of altruism, leadership requires the individual to be selfless in his or her actions.
The fifth ethical principle for high performance expresses the need for leaders to respect the wise in their teams. The premise here is that ethical leadership is intertwined with mentorship. Mentors can help maximize the outcomes of one’s strengths. They also benefit from the views of their subordinates expressed in ‘mentoring evaluations’ to enable them become effective mentors. Altruism places emphasis on the concern for others even if one’s actions do not ultimately result into a benefit for oneself (Ciulla, 2003). The lack of self-interest would help a leader mentor and lead others towards a particular strategic direction.
Furthermore, in ‘Spread the Wealth’, the authors state that helping business partners generate wealth is a key hallmark of ethical leadership. This principle means that a leader should pursue ‘win-win deals’ as opposed to taking advantage of others in business dealings. Cantrell and Lucas (2007) hold the view that long-term relationships are built on “mutually reinforcing attitudes and actions”, not on “unequal power and control” (p. 61). In this view, organizations should recognize and reward partners or staff with good ideas in the spirit of mutual support. The sense of courtesy and recognition is what fuels productivity and innovation in teams.
Another ethical perspective supported by the ideas in the book is the categorical imperative view. According this view, one should obey his or her moral duties at all times regardless of the possible outcomes (Ciulla, 2003). This perspective holds that we should adhere to certain universal truths identified through reason or moral intuition as opposed to acting in response to the circumstances. The first principle in the book focuses on setting priorities. It challenges leaders to get their priorities right, i.e., focus on what really matters as opposed to mundane or urgent affairs (Cantrell & Lucas, 2007). One way of achieving this goal is by developing vision and mission shared by all individuals in the organization. The principle also requires us to spare time for spiritual matters and family. These ideas give one a moral compass to apply universal truths and principles at all times.
In the third HPE principle, Cantrell and Lucas (2007) observe, “it is never the wrong time to do the right thing” (p. 72). The premise implies that doing what is right transcends all times or seasons. In the context of the categorical imperative, basing your decisions or actions on universal principles, such as the Ten Commandments, can prevent a values drift over time. In order to achieve this state, Lawler and Worley (2006) suggest aligning ethical values with organizational practices, including the company’s code of behavior and compliance policy. The concept of ‘doing right’ entails a firm resolution to embrace universal truths.
The ethical perspective of justice and fairness also relates to the HPE principles. In an organizational setup, resource allocation can be a source of conflicts that hamper teamwork. In addition, feelings of discrimination or favoritism may arise in distributing resources, affecting cooperation in the workplace. The justice and fairness perspective is built on the principles of equal liberty and opportunity in decision-making. The ninth HPE principle talks about spreading the wealth to employees and partners. Cantrell and Lucas (2007) hold that “spreading wealth” beyond the organization’s borders is more beneficial and ethical than engaging in unfair trade dealings (p. 78). Justice in business entails win-win deals between the business partners or the organization and its employees. In addition, the tenth principle requires leaders to limit their desires or greed in order to create high-performance teams.
Appropriate Use of the Perspectives
Altruism is founded on the concept of selflessness. It is the concern for others that builds healthy social relationships. In organizations, pro-social behavior, such as mentoring and employee engagement, builds trust and enhances productivity. In the context of the social-exchange theory, altruistic behavior arises when the potential gains exceed the costs (Ciulla, 2003). The theory is based on the premise that human decisions involve a cost-benefit analysis of the available options. According to this theory, altruism is not exhibited in cases where the costs exceed the potential gains.
The altruism perspective could be applied to strengthen internal and external relationships in organizations. For instance, in the book, spreading wealth beyond the organization is recommended as a high-performance ethics principle. It entails helping others to achieve success through “mutually reinforcing attitudes and actions” (Cantrell & Lucas, 2007, p. 55). From an altruistic perspective, promoting attitudes and actions that enhance performance and individual success in employees can create value for the organization in the long term. In contrast, unequal control or failure to reward innovation may affect relationships, increase turnover, and reduce employee morale and productivity. Therefore, altruism can be applied to improve staff performance that ultimately benefits the organization.
The categorical imperative perspective requires leaders to do what is ethical regardless of the circumstances. Moral choices should be the decisions that we would expect from others. In this view, leaders should consider the aspirations and interests of other people during decision-making (Ciulla, 2003). The theory underlying this perspective is the deontological ethics, which holds that our choices should be grounded on “our duty to follow universal truths” identifiable intuitively or sound judgment (Ciulla, 2003, p. 91). Therefore, ethical acts are the outcome of one’s moral duty.
The perspective could be applied in organizations to establish a strong strategic focus. In the book, the idea of “just focusing on results” is considered one of the downsides of most company strategies (Cantrell & Lucas, 2007, p. 104). Based on the categorical imperative, the organizational strategy should be framed according to its mission and vision as opposed to changing circumstances. In addition, Cantrell and Lucas (2007) consider creating an organization founded on the “a good name principle” (p. 87). The perspective could be applied to communicate the organization’s strategy and goals to the employees in order to establish a ‘clear line-of-sight’. According to Bass and Riggio (2006), leaders should focus on adding or creating value for the organization. This approach would require a steadfast focus on organizational goals and plans.
The perspective of justice is grounded on the fairness theory that guides appropriate resource allocation to avoid conflicts. In an organization, each person should enjoy freedom of thought and equal access to promotional opportunities (Bass & Riggio, 2006). The premise is to build stronger interpersonal relationships that lead to high performance. In the book, Cantrell and Lucas (2007) write, “getting outstanding results requires passion, clear thinking, hard work, and high-performance ethics” (p. 116). However, ensuring fairness is essential in employee motivation. Therefore, the justice perspective could be applied to deal with resource-related conflicts that affect interpersonal relationships.
The text, High Performance Ethics, provides a set of ethical principles that apply in high-performance organizational settings. The principles require leaders to practice the strong values embodied in the organizational vision and mission and align them to reality to create a strong identity. The key questions that the writer would pose to peers are: (1) in what way does selflessness in leadership create high performance? And (2) is ethics innate or learned? The ideas learned can be a useful at the personal and group levels. The writer would integrate the ten ethical principles into his daily practices to empower, build trust, and mentor others.
Bass, B.M., & Riggio, R.E. (2006). Transformational Leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Cantrell, W. & Lucas, J. (2007). High-Performance Ethics: 10 Timeless Principles for Next-Generation Leadership. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Ciulla, J.B. (2003). The Ethics of Leadership. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Lawler, E.E., & Worley, C.G. (2006). Built to Change. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.