Leadership for all Series: Ethical decision making

  • Nicholas Boyle
  • 16 September 2021
  • Blog | Thought Leadership Insights | Career Development | Blog

It is time to re-think what leadership means. Historically, the perception of leadership is that it only applies to a few individuals with seniority status within an organisation. The role of said leader was to provide guidance and direction to a team.

Many conversations have centred around “leadership styles” and how leaders can lead effectively. In our Leadership for all series, our range of podcasts, webcasts and blogs will explore how everyone can adopt key aspects of leadership within their roles on a daily basis.

This “Leadership for All” series is not focussed on your position in the organisation but rather to help support the principle that we are all Leaders. We can all have a positive impact, and that Professionalism and ethics are areas we as individuals should strive to excel in.

In partnership with Nicholas Boyle, Academic Associate and Director of Storm 7 Coaching, we are delighted to share this series with you all. Each month, a new topic will be explored, delving into key subjects within the banking sector, with insight from a wide range of experts.

September - Ethical decision making

October - The impact of AI

November - Making sustainable choices

December - Vulnerable customers

To start the series, we will be focussed on Ethical Decision Making and this is indeed an important subject.

Making decisions in the right way for the right reasons is something that spans all employees in the banking industry worldwide, responsibility to do the right thing should always be forefront in your mind.

Ethics has some base fundamentals that are common throughout the world and especially in banking, an industry that should outwardly and inwardly display inspirational ethical approaches to common challenges.

A simple and quick definition is - ethical decision-making is the process of evaluating alternatives to ensure that any decision is made in a manner that fully considers ethical principles. To make ethical decisions, it is necessary to identify all options, eliminate unethical options and select the best ethical alternative.

Traditionally this would lead leaders to ask various questions of its strategy and people. For instance:


  • How do we ensure all staff are clear on what ethical decision-making is?
  • How do we build this into the organisational culture?
  • How do we support our leaders and staff in bringing it to life on the front line with customers?
  • How do we support the development of knowledge and understanding of ethical decision making with all staff?
  • What are the key ethical principles that we should use to make decisions within our Business?
  • What are the consequences, individually and collectively, of not having ethical principles at the core of culture and decision making?

These are all great questions and Leaders within organisations should be able to easily answer them, but ethics is also not always what an organisation sees it as. Often it is what your culture, or society sees as customary. Different cultures have different ways of doing things and there are often rules that guide people in different cultures that you may or may not have in your own. Therefore, as individuals we need to consider others’ cultures when in correspondence or discussion be it across a counter, on a telephone, or discussing options with an international business or bank. This consideration should, however, never be counter to you own rules or ethics, but rather bring a profession and ethical approach.

As individuals we should not forget that whilst a culture can be driven from the top in terms of its direction and ways of approaching its strategy and goals, each one of us brings to work our own ethical professionalism which should enhance the whole, not diminish it. Whether you are a leader, an informal leader, or a staff member you have a responsibility to your role, your team and your customers that should allow you to improve the culture you see around you.

In banking, generally, we have many people that are, and can be, informal leaders. Those people who by weight of their professionalism, knowledge or specialist status are indeed de facto informal leaders. After all the organisational culture can be enhanced by people but it can also be demeaned by people should their behaviours be contrary to the culture. Being a role model in your teams and interactions with others is such as important aspect of daily working. Considering how you add that value and be a positive contributor is important and a simple way of doing that is ensuring every decision you make is based on sound ethical principles and therefore scrutiny in line with organisational ethics.

As a team member in an organisation, we have the ability to support our colleagues.  We should look at how our organisation makes these decisions and ensure that they fit in with what you see as appropriate. After all an organisation needs to more than the sum of its parts to be able to deliver exceptional behaviours, service, and support for their customers.

Worldwide we are seeing people and organisations more conscious of their impact and the impact of their actions on others. As the world becomes smaller with a growing number of ways to communicate far and wide, and simply, we start to learn more, understand more and see more of the reality that is the world today.

As our communities become more and more diverse it is vital that we continue to question, positively, what concerns us. Challenge for the betterment of all and hopefully influence your own organisational culture in a way that perhaps wouldn’t have happened in years past.

For anyone in banking you may have seen decisions made that you questioned or wished you had questioned. You may also have seen key aspects change as society learns and adopts new norms or indeed rights wrongs of the past. Decisions made in previous years may not be those made today. So, thinking about how you as an individual, leader, policy maker, informal leader or staff member questions and checks that we are all on the right ethical track is key. The professionalism that we should all bring to work every day should be seen as a personal minimum standard in the way we act and react.

You can start by asking yourself some questions, perhaps even as a small local team about:

  • What does professionalism and ethics mean to you?
  • What are your base ethics that you feel are very important?
  • What are your strengths and passions in work and how can these be maximised?
  • When you are faced with making a decision, how do you ensure that in the worst case scenario you have made the best ethical decision possible?

Whilst data is limited on who makes the best decisions, one point that is true is that the more diverse the team, the more chance the decision made will be both professional and ethical (1). So ask the above questions of yourself, then having a great open discussion with your team can only help to challenge and improve thinking and impact (2).

For those of you that have completed your Chartered Banker Professionalism and Ethics you will hopefully have found the history of ethics in banking not only very interesting but potentially even allowed you to question your own thoughts on ethical behaviour and the school of thought that more closely links to your perspective.

1. Erik Larson  - Forbes
2. W. DeGrassi. S, Botsford Morgan. W, Singletary Walker. S, Y.I,.Wang, Ethical Decision-Making: Group Diversity Holds the Key, Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 9(6) 2012