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June 13 2020

Opinion: Why we must develop ethical leadership in times of crisis

This op-ed was originally published in the Calgary Herald on July 7, 2020. Photo credit to Gavin Young/Postmedia.

We are living in a time of crisis. This year, we experienced rail blockades, the COVID-19 pandemic, the collapse of oil prices and the global protests to end racism. Each will require ethical leadership to effectively manage these complicated situations. Our organizations are committed to doing our part.

On June 17, we are convening the Distinguished Business Leaders Summit webinar to look at ethical leadership through three stages: in crisis, in recovery and in the transformation to a new normal. Each stage will require different skills and priorities from our leaders. Here’s how we view ethical leadership:

Ethical leadership in crisis

Ethical leaders know that to act ethically is not something you switch on and off. It is honed through years of practice long before a crisis.

During crisis, the signposts of ethically run organizations are unmistakable. They are the organizations that not only survive, and thrive in crisis times. We see it in multi-nationals that transformed to manufacture, supply and distribute masks, ventilators, disinfectant and expertise.

Crises can expose leaders. For some, a crisis exposes incompetence and self-interest, but for others, crisis reveals courage, resilience and deep concern for others

These are the leadership traits our society needs. We need the leaders who will do what’s right for their organization, but also recognize and accept the role they play in improving society. A deep concern for others is the hallmark of ethical leadership.

Ethical Leadership in Recovery

Calgary’s business community has demonstrated agility, empathy and entrepreneurial spirit throughout the pandemic.

COVID-19 has fundamentally shifted the way we live, work and do business. In many cases, the pandemic eroded customer bases, threatened supply chains or broke business models entirely. This is a huge challenge for business leaders to navigate through to a new reality, since it’s clear there is no going back to normal.

But with every challenge, there is opportunity. The grit, resiliency and determination of Calgary businesses is exactly what is needed to make the most of this opportunity. In doing so, it is imperative that we remember that we can only emerge stronger together if we take care of one another.

COVID-19 is a mental health pandemic as much as it is a physical health one, and its impacts will be felt even after a treatment or vaccine. As we recover, we must ensure that no one is suffering in silence, that everyone feels supported and there is ease of access to critical mental health resources. Staying connected and practicing empathy can save a life and allow us to become more resilient as a community.

Ethical Leadership and the New Normal

Transformation will happen across sectors, including our charities. At Calgary Foundation, we listened to our charities and stepped up early on in the pandemic to bridge the gap and meet their critical needs. Their stress points are access to technology to work remotely, increased demand for services because of the crisis and increased costs due to new physical distancing and PPE requirements.

Not all charitable organizations will survive this crisis. Without the same support from donations and sponsorships, the charitable sector faces a challenging future. Two charities have taken the bold step of a merger, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary and Aspen Family Services. With similar missions and client group, they recognized they are stronger together. They initiated their transformation.

A crisis often reveals the cracks in our systems, our societies and our relationships. Cracks we’ve seen may be in our system of elder care and lack of equity for marginalized people. Although we are all in the same COVID storm, we are in different boats. The struggle is not the same for all.

A crisis also shines a light on the good in our society: generosity, compassion and creativity. We have the opportunity and responsibility to squeeze every bit of learning from this crisis and to transform our future. We owe it to ourselves to come out of this a better community — one where everyone belongs.

Jim Dewald is dean of the Haskayne School of Business;

Sandip Lalli is president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber;

Eva Friesen is the president and CEO of Calgary Foundation.

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