It’s hard to avoid the ethical and moral debates raging across the pond at the moment. And if nothing else, the US is providing British business leaders with fuel for thought on the role that morality plays in economics, as well as politics.

It’s not just about guns and alleged affairs. It’s also about affiliations and broken alliances, that can create serious ripple effects across business and trade reputation and opportunities.

Consumers look to moral companies

Heads of British retail companies can’t stay above moral debates when consumers are demanding greater accountability and transparency.

In one survey, 66% of consumers expressed the view that brands need to take a stand on relevant issues. In fact, 58% of Millennials look for brands that actively support the causes they believe in.

This means that product development and promotion now require a moralistic aspect. This is not just about assuaging public demand or espousing a moral standpoint. It can also be about creating a competitive edge by taking a moral view.

Asda’s parent company in the US, Walmart has removed Cosmopolitan magazines from its shelves to protest against “graphic and degrading” imagery used. The Iceland frozen food chain became the first UK supermarket to work towards zero palm oil in own-brand foods.

Moral culture and leadership

This is not just about the external debates shaping business imperatives either. Evidence is clear that employees are now looking to their leaders to grasp moral objectives, and have tangibly ethical business practices. When what is expected of leaders falls short of what is delivered, it can have serious repercussions for engagement and productivity.

It’s no longer enough for companies to have highly visible social conscience and environmental policies, and to provide community support of some kind. Most organisations have applied some degree of ethical (externally imposed) standards within their working practices.

Morality – the internal compass for right and wrong – now needs to be more central to leadership and culture too. It can simply involve taking a moment to appreciate that situations include an ethical or moral dimension, and assess that. Rather than immediately resorting to the default mode of driving towards business efficiency.

How moral leadership can be seen

One way in which moral leadership can lead to business improvement is when it underpins a genuine policy of equality and diversity. There is strong evidence that an authentic and moral stance can free companies to recruit and promote on the basis of creativity and contribution, rather than a prescribed formula.

Morality in business leadership can also mean providing more honesty and visibility in communications with staff in particular, but also other stakeholders. This leads to stronger staff engagement and improved productivity.

It certainly requires decision makers to tangibly display integrity in the choices they make with regard to supply chains. Cheapest is not always best if it leaves your company balancing on a fine line, thanks to questionable ethical or moral standards.

Get in touch to discuss how morality and ethics impact on leadership skills in your organisation.