Ethics in a time of Crisis

We are facing a global emergency with multifaceted consequences that will transform our personal and professional relationships. An epidemic is a test not just of our courage but our ethics. In a time of lockdowns and quarantines, restaurant closings and postponed academia, the temptation is often to bend the rules, relying on the familiar rather than the unknown. Even when we’re trying to behave well, there are moral conundrums that present themselves; situations in which we have to choose between one of two options and neither one is risk-free.

The stress and anxiety caused by a crisis can make it difficult to handle situations in an ethical manner. At the organizational level, stress prompts groups to delegate decision-making authority to a small team of top officials, limiting access to diverse viewpoints. In such situations, ethical leadership is a necessary ingredient for successful crisis management. Moral reasoning is an important aspect of ethical leadership, and a high level of competency is required if leaders are to be effective in dealing with business crises. Six ethical principles and strategies are essential to fulfilling these moral duties; assume broad responsibility, practice transparency, demonstrate care and concern, engage the head as well as the heart, improvise from a strong moral foundation, and build resilience.

All crises follow a three-stage pattern for development: precrisis, crisis event and post crisis. With 180+ countries confirmed to be in the midst of the crisis at current, organizations can work to identify potential trouble spots, examine long-term trends that may threaten the group, prepare and activate crisis management plans (CMPs).

Responsibility is the foundation for ethical crisis leadership. As a leader you have a duty to try and prevent the harm caused by a crisis, to mitigate the damage caused by such an event, to address needs of all stakeholder groups, to take steps to prevent a similar event from happening again, to help the organization learn from the experience and to foster resilience and renewal.

Although the implications of the pandemic have yet to be determined, it will continue to disrupt our lives for the weeks and months to come. The corporate sector can move the needle during this crisis by implementing strategies and initiatives that benefit society – as well as their long-term success – by supporting their employees, customers and the economy at large.