Strategic collaboration for ethical leadership: a mentoring framework for business and organizational decision making.

Author:Ncube, Lisa B.

Recent corporate scandals in the U.S. have shaken the public trust and spurred the creation of a host of new regulatory controls and laws to help ensure compliance with ethical standards. The purpose of this paper is to present an innovative and practical model for resolving the complexity of making ethical decisions in the contemporary business environment. The paper presents Strategic Collaboration for Ethical Decision Making, a mentoring framework for organizations. The framework provides a process for making ethical decisions. A case study approach is employed to gain insight into the application of the framework. The effectiveness of the framework is assessed using an innovative technique called Empowerment Evaluation.

Key Words: Appreciative Inquiry, business leadership, decision making, empowerment evaluation, ethics, mentoring, Strategic Collaboration.


Restoring trust and applying ethical standards have become principal challenges for U.S. business leaders (Kist 2002). In the wake of recent corporate scandals in the United States, business leaders must contend with a host of new regulatory controls and legislation designed to ensure accurate and timely disclosure, transparent reporting, and ethical accountability. For example, to ensure compliance with ethical standards, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires top management of corporations to certify the accuracy of financial statements and reports (Clark, 2004). It also eliminates senior management's ability to profit personally from misstated financial reporting. New rules and guidelines by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the Office of Inspectors General, Government Accounting office, the Public Company accounting Oversight Board, and the Securities and Exchange Commission have introduced more stringent accountability requirements and stiffer penalties for corporate wrong-doing (Clark, 2004).

As business leaders strive to comply with the new laws and regulations, they are also working to restore public trust in U.S. firms. A 2002 Gallup International poll revealed that levels of trust in business were exceedingly low. Only 33% of respondents had either 'a lot' or 'some' trust in business leaders (Roussouw, 2004). In 2003, a Zogby Poll of college seniors revealed that 56% of respondents believed "the only real difference between executives at Enron and those of other big companies is that those at Enron got caught" (Goodpaster 2004).

Clearly, organizations do not work in isolation and there is a need for them to find pertinent ways to improve their decision making (Stainer, 2004). Employing a case-study approach, this paper presents a synergistic mentoring model, Strategic Collaboration and applies it to ethical decision making. The model blends elements of mentoring with Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider, 2001), which focuses on applied ethics, provides business leaders with a framework and a process for decision making. The effectiveness of the framework is assessed using Empowerment Evaluation, an innovative technique that supports capacity building within organizations.

Mentoring and Ethical Decision Making

To compete successfully and govern effectively, business leaders must develop new skills in strategic and multicultural collaboration (Jelinek and Adler, 1987). Situations continually arise in which business leaders must make decisions that may involve conflicting value systems, regulations or practices (Kamberg, 2001). For organizations to be competitive and sustainable, leaders must demonstrate appropriate levels of responsibility (Smith and Sharma, 2002). Research indicates that the attitudes, practices and decision making processes of business leaders are critical in determining and maintaining the ethical climate of an organization (Clinard, 1983).

It is not enough for corporations to comply with the law by simply developing codes of ethics; they must provide ethics training programs and guidelines for employees and managers, and sustain positive, ethical work environments (Victor and Cullen, 1988). These actions set the tone and direction for the corporation and emphasize the importance of ethical behavior to standard business operations (Trevino, 1990). Furthermore, it is imperative that organizational policies and practices, accountability measures, incentives, training programs, and decision making processes at all levels work in concert to reinforce the organization's fundamental ethical beliefs (Cohen and Nelson, 1994). Developing an ethical decision making process within organizations requires a framework and a shared understanding of what is valued in the organization (Vuuren and Crous, 2005). Values not only influence individuals' behavior, but also have an impact on achievement of specific goals and objectives. Ethical decision making in organizations is not only the right thing to do but is vital to organizational survival.

The framework Strategic Collaboration for Ethical Decision Making is not an ethical paradigm. Rather, it is an extension and application of the Strategic Collaboration Model developed by Wasburn and Crispo (2006). The Strategic Collaboration Model combines Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider, 2001) with elements of mentoring. Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to organizational innovation that focuses on the positive outcomes of an organization (Cooperrider, 1990). While the basic aspects of the framework are based on the original AI model, it is important to remember that each AI process is unique--designed to meet the unique challenges of the organization and industry involved (Cooperrider and Whitney, 1999a). Most organization-change efforts flow through the 4-D cycle discussed below, and organizations grow in the direction of what they persistently ask questions about (van Vuuren and Crous, 2005).

Mentoring is a process whereby a more experienced person (mentor) provides guidance, support, knowledge, and opportunities to a less experienced individual or protege (Burlew, 1991 ; Haring, 1999). From the point of view of companies and corporations, mentoring can provide a mechanism for assuring the continuity of a strong corporate culture, and a common set of values and expectations (Wilson & Elman, 1990).

Organizations that choose to create formal, facilitated mentoring programs generally utilize one of three models: grooming mentoring, networking mentoring, or a blending of grooming and networking mentoring models. Grooming mentoring, the traditional style of mentoring, involves a dyadic relationship consisting of a more experienced mentor and a less experienced protege (Swoboda, & Millar, 1986). By contrast, networking mentoring is non-hierarchical, and generally involves more than two participants. A third alternative model blends the grooming and networking by matching a group of newcomers with one or two more experienced employees (Haring, 1999). If properly managed, this model would combine the strengths of the other two by promoting a strong networking relationship while still providing some of the benefits of a grooming mentoring relationship.

However, a major shortcoming of mentoring relationships in organizations is a lack of formal training. Mentoring arrangements also tend to be morally and ethically burdensome for some mentors. Furthermore, mentors are seldom rewarded for their efforts. Morberg and Velasquez (2004) consider this arrangement unjust as it relies largely on virtues of mentors. They point out both mentors and proteges need to be aware of the ethical implications built into these roles. Strategic Collaboration seeks to modify and combine the strengths of Appreciative Inquiry and the blended alternative mentoring model to create a positive support structure that offers a mechanism for ensuring that organizations can develop and maintain ethical decision making processes and structures.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) helps to create a positive support structure that offers a mechanism for ensuring that organizations can develop and maintain ethical decision making processes and structures (Cooperrider and Whitney, 1999b). Appreciative Inquiry is the collaborative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what drives the organization when it is most effective and capable (Cooperrider and Whitney, 1999a). AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system's capacity to heighten positive potential. In AI, intervention gives way to imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism. Linking this "positive change core" directly to any change agenda results in the realization of changes never thought possible through democratic and collaborative effort (Cooperrider, 1990).

Similarly, the implementation of the Strategic Collaboration mentoring framework can become an integral part of the development of an ethical organizational culture. The question of ethics ceases to be an individual issue, becoming instead a corporate responsibility. The success of the Strategic Collaboration mentoring framework process rests on the assumption that the leadership is supportive, and the organization has provided resources for the ethical decision making process. The impetus for initiating the process is the recognition of an ethical or moral issue within the organization that requires a decision. This may involve the identification of the ethical dilemma or problem and whether it is personal, interpersonal, or social. An assessment of whether the issue goes deeper than legal or institutional concerns and the impact the issue has on individuals dignity, rights, and hopes for a better life together help establish the significance of the problem (Velasquez et al, n.d.).

Training, mentoring, and development activities are generally regarded as having ethically positive outcomes (Woodall and Douglass, 1999). However, within critical management theory and labor process theory...

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