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The Skills That Make You an Ethical Leader

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you had asked me a few years ago, I don’t think I would have understood the influence my leadership had on the values of my company, employees, partners and customers. In the early days of Quantum Metric, I met one of our newer employees for the first time. Within the first 30 seconds of meeting this person, I was shocked to realize just how different our values were and how, despite their professional qualifications, they didn’t fit with the type of company I was looking to build. It wasn’t until this moment that I really thought about the standards I have always held myself to in terms of how I treat people and build relationships. I realized if I wanted that reflected in the teams I built, I needed to be intentional about how I embody the practices of ethical leadership every day. 

Ethical leadership boils down to this: Are you making decisions you can be proud of? What kinds of choices are you making about engaging and considering those around you? Ethical leadership informs how we present ourselves, how we go to market and how we lead as a team. How leaders treat their teams, partners and customers captures much more than a company’s financial success. 

One of the most effective leadership qualities is the ability to lead by example. But how do you lead by example as the company grows and fewer people interact with you regularly? How do you create replicas of your example that will continue to multiply, even in your absence?

Related: How to Become the Leader You Envision Without Sacrificing Your Values

Lock in your core values early on

As a first-time CEO, I initially felt a little out of my comfort zone when it came to establishing the core values for our company. Looking back, I recognize how crucial it was that we defined our “north star” as early as possible. 

The three ideas that kept running through my mind at our inception were passion, persistence and integrity. These were qualities I felt made the best company culture and built the foundation of a company that I would want to work for every day. Even today, I ask every candidate we are looking to hire what these qualities mean to them. We’ve built the company around these three pillars, and never looked back.

If you haven’t gone through this exercise or aren’t content with your current core values, I encourage you to ask yourself what you look for in a team member. What are the shining qualities that make you feel that someone is a good fit for your organization? How do you want partners, customers and others in your industry to describe your team?

If you can write down three characteristics that you want to define your company, you may have just established your core values.

Related: How One Difficult Business Decision During Covid-19 Reflects the Importance of Company Culture

Establish your objectives, then embody them

If your core values are the foundation of your business, your business objectives are its frame. While core values are critical to defining what ethical leadership will look like in your organization, your objectives provide needed guides for how to approach different situations in your business day-to-day. 

At Quantum Metric, we established six objectives that represented what we wanted to achieve and reflected who we wanted to be as a company. As we built our objectives, I quickly realized that people — both our customers and employees — were our top priority. This is something I look to embody both during and after work hours. Some of the most powerful moments I’ve shared with my team have even taken place outside of work. 

Over time, these are the values I’ve started to see reflected in my team. A few years ago, an employee lost a close family member. Without hesitating, everyone on that person’s team pulled extra weight so their grieving team member could jump on an international flight to attend the funeral and not worry about work. She didn’t need to check her emails or respond to questions, the team took care of it all.

Related: Great Leaders Inspire Greatness Within Others

Which direction are you going?

Leaders face demands coming from all different directions. What issues you address first will reflect your priorities as a company. Whether or not your employees are actually a part of that conversation, they will nonetheless experience the after-effects of those decisions down the road. 

The small decisions we make at the top about what to prioritize trickle down and guide culture. Make sure your choices are leading your teams in the right direction.

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