We’ve seen no shortage of leaders promising to make their companies a force for good in the world, and yet many executives fail to live up to their stated ideals. What has kept these leaders from speaking out against unethical practices in their own organizations? In short, rank. This study suggests that as highly ethical leaders rise in an organization, the less likely they are to speak out. Given this bias, the author offers three suggestions to ensure that unethical behavior is identified and addressed. 1) Anticipate and plan for changes in your moral compass as you ascend the ranks. 2) Solicit dissent from low-ranking team members. 3) Work to establish high ethical standards from the outset. This more nuanced insight can explain why otherwise ethical people might make ethically questionable decisions. Given the right circumstances, anyone’s moral compass can drift—and holding higher rank only makes it that much harder to stay on course.

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