The Advancing Leadership Blog

What Business Leaders Should Be Thinking About: Ethics, Citizenship and Public Responsibility

The social contract as used to explain the relationship between a government and its citizens is based on support of the political structure as long as it benefits the supporting citizens. In a modern environment where corporations and individual citizens may wield power comparable to a government, and in which ordinary citizens may find their lives more strongly affected by those entities than by their elected government, discussion around the questions of good citizenship, rights, and public responsibilities are especially relevant and important.

Individuals and corporations can choose to be an active citizen of their country by expanding what’s happening in the country, community, social circle and in the lives that they interface with. Do they do this because they are responsible citizens, or is citizenship simply a coincidence?  Should this activity be a responsibility – an expectation – of all citizens?

With the morass of issues currently compromising many of the global financial markets, the collapse of major financial corporations in the U.S. and the disparity of income across the country – and the world, it is a critical time to be asking the big questions of ethics and public responsibility of individuals and corporations.

Are individual and corporate citizens obliged to take action against inequality or other perceived social injustices? Or is studied neutrality sufficient?

Are there boundaries that successful individuals should be mindful of when dealing with issues of oligopolies or excessive compensation, amongst others? At what point – if any – is it valid to emphasise the wellbeing of the community, the country, in preference to the wellbeing of a high-wealth individual? Who can or should make those decisions?

Major financial institutions have been hedging their investments – frequently derivatives – in both directions, so they have an interest not only in success of an activity, but in its failure as well. What are the ethical considerations of these practices?

In an environment where trust is hard to find, and harder to win –  how do we create relationships that are strong and beneficial for all citizens? As that trust framework builds, people share a lot of things, personally and organisationally, creating the environment to enable the behaviour that supports economic growth and social development. The behaviour that creates and supports good citizenship.

Dr Lynn Tanner, Founder and CEO of TEC Canada, has established a lecture series at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, creating a forum to discuss these issues and raise them to a position of public dialogue. The inaugural lecture will be delivered by Senator Bill Bradley at 6pm EST on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 and streamed live from http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/live.

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