The Big Ideas of 2012: What We Learned About Leadership and Ethics


Between election-year politics, a slew of corporate scandals, and the slow but steady economic recovery, it’s been an up-and-down year for American business.

In the final weeks of 2012, we are taking a look back at some of the biggest ideas that have shaped the discourse of the business world in the last year. This is the second installment of our three-part series.

Five Things We Learned About Management and Leadership:

  1. With great power comes great impulsiveness. People in powerful positions are inclined to take action quickly because they focus on the potential advantages of their decisions rather than dwelling on the negatives. But while decisiveness can drive success, it can also become a problem when the action is misguided or if it violates social taboos.
  2. Gender stereotypes create negotiation challenges. Due to stereotypes labeling them as caring and nurturing, women can encounter social backlash if others perceive them as overly ambitious or aggressive at the negotiating table. This pressure can lead women to accept lower salary offers than their male counterparts.
  3. Take the rap or take the fall. When a CEO apologizes or makes excuses for a corporate crisis, he improves his own public image while harming that of the company as a whole. But if an executive denies or attempts to justify the problem, perceptions of the CEO are more negative and the corporation is regarded more favorably by comparison.
  4. Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss. Changes to company culture and day-to-day routines are important but often overlooked outcomes of corporate mergers. But if managers do not address these differences and guide employees through the transition, there is a greater chance the merger will fail.
  5. Cut back on the feedback. In the early stages of pursuing a goal, people tend to think they’ve made more progress than they really have. Conversely, those who are getting close to completing the goal assume they’re not quite as close as they actually are. Rather than providing constant progress feedback, managers could benefit from taking a step back and coaching employees to tap into the instinct to push themselves until the job is done.

Five Things We Learned About Ethics:

  1. Don’t give yourself a free pass. If we’re doing a lot of nice stuff — working hard, giving money, helping others — we may also subconsciously give ourselves license to misbehave in other ways. “Moral equilibrium” is one of the ethical concepts powerfully illustrated in the documentary “In It To Win: The Jack Abramoff Story.” 
  2. Change your framework. How we make a decision depends in large part on how the situation is framed (say, as a matter of profits vs. a matter of safety). “Framing” is part of the “Concepts Unwrapped” video series.
  3. Encourage conversation. Workplace hierarchies that are too rigid can keep lower-level employees from speaking up about concerns like ethical considerations. Making time for conversation and reflection can help important ethical questions be heard.
  4. Beware of risk without responsibility. We might take undue risks if won’t have to bear the consequences of our decisions.  And this tendency plays into some of our recent economic problems. Watch our Lingo video on “Moral Hazard” to learn more.
  5. Incentives can backfire. Thinking about setting up bonuses tied to results? Don’t forget that some employees might try to game the system.

Review more of this year's biggest business lessons in parts one and three of our "Big Ideas of 2012" series.


About The Author

TXE Staff

Staff, Texas Enterprise

The Texas Enterprise staff covers a broad swath of disciplines and interests. Writers, researchers, technicians and artists all contribute to the...

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