The Values and Ethics of Leadership


Leaders codes of ethics: how are they similar and different?



If you have been paying close attention to the recent daily columns on leadership, it may seem like yesterday’s column on the Webb Telescope was a detour. It was in a way, but besides being breaking news of great import, it also is an example of how leadership can lead us to new knowledge. How that knowledge is used often depends on values and ethics. That can explain how otherwise similar leaders can produce very different outcomes.

I am not sure there is a formal ethical code for Presidents of the United States. Perhaps their essential job description is to defend our Constitution, as in the oath taken upon inauguration, swearing “to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

In medicine, to correspond to the Presidential Oath, we have the time-tested Hippocratic Oath, with the most well-known clause of “do no harm.” Yet, when you think about it, doing no harm can only be an ideal, not a requirement, given potential adverse effects of most any beneficial treatment. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why all medical school graduates no longer take this oath and often make up their own class one.

In psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association follows the AMA’s Principles of Medical Ethics, with Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry.

The ethics of business, which now apply widely in medicine, seem to be to make profits by providing products that citizens and the government desire.

Cultural values can vary. For example, not everybody believes in—or follows—the Ten Commandments.

When we get down to the family unit, the traditional marriage vow was based on Western Christian norms and never universal. This vow consisted of variations of the phrase from the Book of Common Prayer:

“For better or worse, for richer or poor, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part.”

Given our divorce rate of over 50% in the United States, this value fails to hold up over time. How to best parent a child is not clearly determined, either.

To the degree that leaders can control outcomes, their values and ethics are essential, whether that be for a country, business, service, or loved ones. They must be more than lip service to matter. Of course, these values may not be apparent at first or early glance. In running for office, values that fit the public expectations may be adapted only temporarily in order to win the race. When a president of our country runs for a second term, it is clearer what their values really are. The same can hold true in more intimate relationships.

Like the business saying, “buyer beware,” given the opportunity, chooser beware.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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