Discuss The Role That Ethical Decision-Making Plays In Planning For The Future: Ethical Leadership Assignment, HWU, UK

University Heriot-Watt University (HWU)
Subject Ethical Leadership

Learning Objectives

By the end of the lesson, you should be able to:

  • Discuss the role that ethical decision-making plays in planning for the future.
  • Explore the implications of considering future generations as part of the individual/group
  • Illustrate how a systematic approach to futures planning can better prepare an organization for its future.


The Individual-Group Tug of War

Now that we have looked at a number of different ethical dilemmas related to people and organizations, we know that the conflict between individual autonomy and group interests is a recurring pattern in these dilemmas. It is unlikely, and probably not very desirable anyway, that any economy will ever commit totally to protecting either individual interests or group interests, to the exclusion of the other.

At one extreme, we would remove the purpose of an economy—to enable people in a group to get what they want. At the other extreme, we would remove most of the motivations to work. What we may be able to hope for, however, is an ethical manner of maintaining them in tandem. Nonetheless, when choices must be made between mutually exclusive alternatives, it is inevitable that one will have to be sacrificed to the other. To what extent can we acknowledge these mutually exclusive choices in strategic planning, and perhaps mitigate their effects insofar as they precipitate ethical dilemmas for decision-makers?

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In this respect, individual organizations and the people within them may well follow the course that the United States as a nation (in the person of its government) has adopted in balancing the demands of group security with the preservation of individual freedoms. This balancing act has created a long series of decisions that are never entirely satisfying for either purpose from a utilitarian perspective, and that bend the categorical imperatives involved without breaking them.

Such a dialectic, which moves back and forth between the two priorities, is likely to characterize management practice as well. Surely, that is the way professionals and organizations engaged in economic activity are managing the conflict now, making the best possible decisions they can under the circumstances.

Ethical Challenges to Strategic Planning

The problem with occupying the middle ground as a permanent strategy is that, sooner or later, the logical contradiction between the two alternatives forces a choice. One alternative in a dilemma is always “to do nothing.” This may mean trying to hold onto the middle ground. As the situation grows more urgent, however, the space between a rock and a hard place shrinks to the point where there is no room for us to stand. In addition, as we have seen in most cases, “doing nothing” amounts to making a passive choice in favor of one of the alternatives for action anyway. The issue facing organizational leaders and those who manage the organization at a practical level is whether or not they choose to take responsibility for those choices, rather than “letting them happen.”

One of the forces creating pressure to eliminate the middle ground is the pace of science and technology. New possibilities that emerge from research and development nearly always raise the question, “Just because we can, does that mean we should?” The lag between having the means in hand and realizing the full implications of using it arises, in particular, when research and development are undertaken with a commercial interest in mind. When knowledge becomes intellectual property, issues of self-interest and social responsibility come immediately to the foreground. They call for answers to questions about which one is the higher priority.

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