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The Importance of Ethics When Hiring an Executive

The Importance of Ethics When Hiring an Executive

February 2023


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Looking for the best candidate for your C-suite? Prioritize skills and ethics.

The executive search process can sometimes feel like an intervention. It’s eerily similar to confronting a friend or colleague for an unacceptable pattern of behavior, except in this case, your company is the one in need of external mediation. Executive hires often require a significant investment of time and resources as you look for a candidate who can address an ongoing issue or pattern of failure in your business.

That said, you can’t always hire the first candidate you find who’s qualified based on the job description. You need to identify the individual with the perfect combination of skills and ethics to successfully “intervene” and improve a company.

The Two Essential Elements of Executive Hiring

There are many reasons to hire an executive. On the more positive side of things, you might be scaling or opening a new department that needs a new leader. You could also be looking ahead and working on succession planning.

Things get a bit darker when you’re hiring to replace a leader with poor performance who you need to fire or have already fired. When that’s the case, you need to bring in someone with the peak skill set that can help your company recapture momentum and make progress toward its goals.

But there’s another reason to let an exec go: unethical behavior. From overt things like embezzlement to more subtle misbehaviors, such as sexual harassment or bullying, there are countless reasons that unethical executives are let go, especially in the hyper-aware 21st-century workplace.

Ethics-based termination is common. It’s also precisely why finding people with ethical grounding is essential to the executive recruitment process.

When you find that uniquely qualified individual with the right skill set and a firm, uncompromising ethical code, you set the stage for spectacular results—not just for your company’s current goals but for your long-term objectives, too.

Hiring a team of capable leaders that you can trust allows you to rest in the fact that your organization is being led by individuals who know that there is importance in maintaining the moral high ground, even when things are tough. You can count on them to put others first, provide genuine effort, and never resort to unscrupulous behavior, even when others might.

Ethical “Soft Skills” to Look for in a Leader

Everyone loves to break down and define the skills that make a leader successful. However, these lists tend to revolve around practical skills.

Let’s dig a little deeper than the surface-level talents and capabilities that are repeated regularly across the internet. What ethical parameters should recruiters and HR reps be on the lookout for as they vet each candidate? Here are a few to keep in mind.

1. Ethical Leaders Are Honest

The news cycle is filled with reports about the latest scandals, deceits, and Ponzi schemes. This serves as a constant reminder of how important it is for every leader to be honest.

Just to be clear, leaders don’t need to go around confessing every little detail to everyone around them. There’s still a balance to strike between transparency and discretion. However, if someone is inclined to bend the truth or they can never give a direct answer, that should always be a red flag.

2. Ethical Leaders Are Respectful

There is no organic element to org charts. The vertical relationship between employees and managers is a social construct. This is a reality that every leader must remember throughout every interaction.

It doesn’t matter if they’re talking to a new intern, discussing a situation with a member of the IT department, or brainstorming with another member of the C-suite. An ethical leader always demonstrates respect for his fellow humans.

3. Ethical Leaders Lead First

No one wants to follow a leader who orders them into battle when they’re unwilling to step out into the line of fire themselves.

Don’t misunderstand, there’s wisdom in delegating activities. Leaders can’t do all of the work, or nothing will ever get done. However, a leader who is willing to get down into the trenches and get their hands dirty by leading through example is one that will inspire others to follow them.

4. Ethical Leaders Are Compassionate

Leaders have to be highly analytical at times. They need to make budget-driven decisions, hire and fire people, and shoulder responsibility.

A top-level leader can function in this high-pressure role and still exhibit compassion to those around them. They can empathize with those in pain and help those that they lead feel seen on an individual basis.

The Challenge of Finding Elite Leaders

It’s relatively easy to find a leader who is ethical. You can also identify accomplished leaders with the right skill sets. Finding an individual who possesses both the right skills and an ethical code is rare, though. It isn’t the kind of thing that you want to leave to chance.

“Finding an individual who possesses both the right skills and an ethical code is rare.”

At Stanton Chase, we understand the importance that ethical conduct plays in the success or failure of an executive hire. We’ve spent years refining our hiring process to source talent that has both elite professional skills and sound moral strengths.

If you’re struggling to gauge the ethical stance of your candidates or you aren’t sure how to proceed after parting ways with an unethical leader, reach out. Our talent network is filled with ethically grounded, highly skilled candidates who can set up your C-suite for a long, honest, and prosperous run.

About the Author

William Brewer, CCP, is a Director at Stanton Chase Los Angeles. He is also Stanton Chase’s Global Human Resources Practice Leader. Prior to moving into executive search, Bill had 25 years of experience in corporate human resources. In addition to his executive search career, Bill is an adjunct Professor at the University of Redlands. Bill also serves as a mentor for the MBA program at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and has been a mentor with the School of Business at the University of Redlands.

Executive Search
Executive Assessment
Leadership Development
Talent Management and Employee Well-Being

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