Ethical leadership; crossing the ethical divide from academia to industry

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By Samuel LARTEY (Prof) [email protected]

 In Ghana, corruption is a significant issue across various sectors, including government services. The Ghana Integrity of Public Services Survey reported widespread corruption, resulting in substantial financial mismanagement exceeding five billion cedis ($346 million). Public perception of corruption is increasing, with many citizens expressing a lack of confidence in the government’s efforts to combat it. Despite legal frameworks to address corruption, the implementation is often ineffective, and officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with little accountability.

Ethical leadership and behaviour either in academia or in industry has the same connotation. It is the practice of leaders demonstrating conduct that reflects ethical standards and values, influencing others to do the same. This involves making decisions that are not only legally compliant but also morally sound, considering the well-being of all stakeholders. Ethical leaders are transparent, fair, and responsible, fostering a culture of trust and integrity within their organizations. They inspire ethical behaviour among their team members, promoting a positive and principled environment.

The transition from academic halls to the bustling floors of industry jobs often represents a significant shift for many graduates. This feature article delves into a pressing concern: why do some students and learners, upon entering the workforce, find themselves ensnared by corruption? The question at hand is whether educational institutions play a part in this unfortunate transformation or if the prevailing culture within industries bears the heavier blame.

In educational institutions, students often adhere to strict ethical standards, with examination malpractice being relatively minimal. This adherence to ethics is largely due to the structured environment, clear rules, and consequences for unethical behaviour. However, when these same individuals transition to the industry and practice, there’s a notable shift as some become involved in corrupt practices. This change can be attributed to various factors, including pressure to meet targets, the influence of existing industry culture, and a lack of stringent oversight. The discrepancy highlights the challenge of maintaining personal ethics in the face of real-world pressures and temptations.

Ghanaian Educational institutions as the bedrock of professional ethics

Educational institutions are central to converting human resources into human capital, yielding significant benefits for businesses, economies, and communities through skill development, ethical grounding, innovation, adaptability, social mobility, economic growth, and community development.

In the Ghanaian educational system and context, implementing strategies to transform learners into valuable human capital, instill ethical values, and block corrupt hereditary systems faces unique challenges and opportunities. The relevance of these strategies can be seen through various lenses.

Ghana’s education system has undergone significant reforms, such as the introduction of the new Basic Education Curriculum in 2019, focusing on critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Further integrating ethical values and leadership training into the curriculum can prepare students for the ethical dilemmas they might face in the workforce.

There’s a growing emphasis on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Ghana, which aligns with the strategy of providing practical experience. Strengthening these programs, along with internships and apprenticeships, can bridge the gap between academic knowledge and the practical demands of the job market, emphasizing ethical practices in these settings.

Ghana’s educational system, reflective of its diverse cultural background, can leverage this diversity to foster inclusivity and a broad spectrum of perspectives. This diversity should be seen as a strength, promoting a richer educational experience and a deeper understanding of ethical considerations in a multicultural context.

In Ghana, where community and respect for elders play a significant role, mentorship programs linking students with ethical leaders and professionals can have a profound impact. This approach resonates well with Ghanaian values of respect for authority and experience, making it a powerful tool for instilling ethical values and leadership.

The Ghanaian educational and professional sectors face challenges related to corruption and nepotism. Strengthening codes of conduct, along with establishing transparent and fair recruitment and promotion practices, are crucial. This includes the education sector itself, where fairness in admissions and examinations must be rigorously upheld.

Ghana’s efforts to combat corruption and promote ethical practices have seen various stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector, working together. This collaborative approach is essential for creating an environment that supports ethical leadership and discourages corrupt practices.

Ghana, like many countries, is navigating the complexities of globalization. Educating students to think globally while acting locally can foster a sense of responsibility towards both the international community and local societies. This approach can prepare Ghanaian students to compete on a global scale while contributing to local development and governance.

The Ghanaian context, with its unique cultural, economic, and social dynamics, offers both challenges and opportunities for implementing these strategies. Success depends on the collaborative efforts of government bodies, educational institutions, industries, and the broader community to reform and enrich the educational system. This will not only enhance Ghana’s human capital but also promote a culture of integrity and leadership that can drive sustainable development and societal well-being.

Educational institutions serve as the bedrock of professional ethics and conduct. Universities, colleges, and vocational schools are not just centers for academic learning; they are also supposed to instill in students a strong moral compass and an understanding of ethical practices within their chosen fields. However, the degree to which these institutions succeed in this mission varies significantly.

Critics argue that the focus on theoretical knowledge over practical, real-world applications can leave graduates ill-prepared for the ethical dilemmas they face in the workforce. Moreover, if academic environments are not free from misconduct themselves—whether in the form of grade inflation, plagiarism, or other unethical practices—students may graduate with a skewed understanding of what is acceptable behavior in professional settings.

Educational institutions play a pivotal role in transforming human resources, learners, and talents into valuable human capital that significantly benefits businesses, economies, and communities. This transformation process involves several key functions:

  1. Skill Development:

Through a structured curriculum, educational institutions equip individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary for various industries. This includes both hard skills, such as technical expertise and soft skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, which are critical for success in the modern workplace.

  1. Ethical Grounding:

Beyond technical skills, these institutions also instill ethical principles and professional standards in students. This moral grounding ensures that the future workforce operates with integrity and responsibility, contributing positively to their industries and society at large.

  1. Innovation and Research:

Higher education, in particular, serves as a hub for research and innovation. By fostering a culture of inquiry and creativity, educational institutions contribute to the development of new technologies, processes, and ideas. This not only enhances economic competitiveness but also addresses societal challenges.

  1. Adaptability and Lifelong Learning:

In an ever-changing global economy, the ability to adapt and continue learning is crucial. Educational institutions lay the foundation for lifelong learning, encouraging individuals to continually acquire new skills and adapt to emerging trends and technologies.

  1. Social Mobility and Equity:

By providing access to education and training, these institutions play a critical role in promoting social mobility and equity. They offer individuals from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to improve their socioeconomic status, thereby contributing to a more equitable and cohesive society.

  1. Economic Growth:

The cumulative effect of educated and skilled individuals entering the workforce is a robust economy. Human capital is a key driver of economic growth, productivity, and innovation. As such, educational institutions are foundational to developing the human capital necessary for thriving businesses and economies.

  1. Community Development:

On a broader scale, the benefits of education extend to community development. Educated individuals are more likely to participate in civic activities, volunteer, and contribute to societal well-being. This, in turn, leads to stronger, more resilient communities.

On the other side of the equation lies the industry environment into which graduates emerge. Industries and corporations have their internal cultures, which can either reinforce ethical behavior or undermine it.

The pressure to meet targets, the desire for quick advancement, and the influence of corrupt practices at higher levels can be overwhelming for newcomers. In such environments, the corrupt behavior of seasoned practitioners can have a significant impact on fresh recruits, often presenting them with a stark choice: conform to unethical practices or risk alienation and even career stagnation.

The phenomenon known as “ethical fading,” where the ethical dimensions of a decision fade from view under pressure or in the face of rationalization, can play a significant role here. New recruits, eager to prove themselves and achieve success, may find it easier to justify unethical behavior if it is seen as a norm within their new professional home.

The dilemma of corruption in the workforce is not one that can be laid at the feet of educational institutions or industry cultures alone. It is a complex interplay of both, along with societal values and individual choices.

Educational institutions can certainly do more to prepare students for the ethical challenges they will face in the workforce. This could include more practical, scenario-based learning, internships that expose students to real-world situations under the guidance of ethical mentors, and courses that focus specifically on ethics in the professional world.

Industries, for their part, need to cultivate environments where ethical behavior is rewarded, and whistleblowers are protected rather than penalized. Corporate governance structures must be strong enough to resist corrupt practices and transparent enough to be held accountable.

Making Things Work

Making the initiative of transforming learners into valuable and ethical human capital work, while instilling ethical values and leadership and blocking corrupt hereditary systems, requires a multifaceted approach. Here is a summary of key approaches:

  1. Comprehensive Curriculum Design:

Develop curricula that blend technical skills with soft skills, ethics, and leadership training. This includes integrating case studies, ethical dilemmas, and leadership challenges into coursework to prepare students for real-world scenarios.

  1. Practical Experience:

Encourage internships, apprenticeships, and hands-on projects that allow students to apply their learning in real-world settings. Partnerships with industries and non-profits can provide practical experience and expose students to ethical practices and leadership in action.

  1. Diverse and Inclusive Environment:

Create an educational environment that values diversity and inclusivity, providing students with multiple perspectives and fostering a culture of respect and understanding. This environment should actively challenge stereotypes and biases that contribute to corrupt practices.

  1. Mentorship and Role Models:

Offer mentorship programs linking students with ethical leaders and professionals in their field. Exposure to role models who exemplify integrity and leadership can inspire students to emulate these values in their careers.

  1. Continuous Professional Development:

Promote lifelong learning and continuous professional development opportunities that focus on ethics and leadership, ensuring that individuals remain adaptable and committed to their values throughout their careers.

  1. Transparency and Accountability:

Establish and enforce clear codes of conduct within educational institutions and workplaces. Create mechanisms for reporting and addressing unethical behavior without fear of retribution, fostering a culture of transparency and accountability.

  1. Collaboration Across Sectors:

Engage governments, industries, and civil society in dialogue and action to promote ethical practices and leadership across sectors. This includes formulating policies that discourage corruption and support fair practices.

  1. Critical Thinking and Ethical Reasoning:

Encourage the development of critical thinking and ethical reasoning skills from an early age. Education should not just focus on rote learning but on understanding the complexities of ethical dilemmas and developing the capacity to make sound decisions.

  1. Breaking the Cycle of Corruption:

Actively work to dismantle systems that perpetuate corrupt hereditary practices. This includes reforming recruitment and promotion practices in all sectors to ensure they are merit-based and transparent.

  1. Global and Local Perspectives:

Teach students to think globally while acting locally, understanding their role in a globalized world while being rooted in their communities. This helps in recognizing the broader impact of their actions and the importance of ethical leadership on a global scale.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the transition from academia to industry is a pivotal moment in many professionals’ lives. While educational institutions and industry cultures both play significant roles in shaping the ethical outlook of new recruits, the responsibility also lies with individuals to choose integrity over expediency. Creating a culture where ethical behavior is the norm requires concerted efforts from all sides including educational, corporate, and individual.

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