ethical public service

How ‘Ethical Allies’ Elevate Public Service Capability

1 April, 2021

Cranlana Centre Lead Moderator Peter Mares believes now is the best time for public servants to reset personal motivation and re-imagine common concepts like consultation and collaboration, with the support of ethical allies, in this Mandarin article. Read the full article here

Melissa Coade writes that the message for public servants working in high-pressure bureaucracies is that ethical decision-making improves agency — but some of your colleagues should be on board too. 

If the unique demands on the public service of the past 12 months have you feeling flat, she says, a shot of ethics may be just what you need. Not the ethics that has you drifting on a cloud and navel-gazing but the sort that will inspire you to innovate and take action. 

Mares believes now is the best time for public servants to reset personal motivation and re-imagine common concepts like consultation and collaboration. The twist is that you need some trusted colleagues to fulfil the role of what Mares calls an ‘ethical ally’.

“Good government is not achieved by just following directives, but relies on critical thinking, innovative ideas and being alert to ethical problems,” Mares told The Mandarin

“Ultimately the elected government is responsible for setting policy, but good policy requires robust discussion and advice.”

According to Mares, bureaucrats will lack substance and satisfaction without an ethical framework. This means making the time to engage in ethical decision-making and recognising the reflective process as essential. It also means having an organisational language or system for ethics beyond a code of conduct or mission statement which is printed-off and stuck to a fridge in the tea room.

When people are confident and clear about their decisions, they feel useful and empowered, Mares explains. When people are empowered, they enjoy agency and the responsibilities of their work.

“From a personal perspective, if I feel like I am just a cog in the machine this will be demotivating and demoralising. It undermines self-worth and personal well-being. It leads to disaffection, high staff turnover and absenteeism,” Mares says. 

Methods such as applying critical thinking are fundamental in forging a more ethical route, but Mares suggests it is trusted peers who can offer the clearest path and most confident way forward. One of the easiest ways to engage in ethical-decision making at work is to bounce ideas off those we trust. To this end, public servants should be cultivating a circle of peers that Mares describes as ‘ethical allies’.

“We need to make time to check in with ourselves and others.

“You may feel like you are alone with an issue or a viewpoint but if you give it voice you will often find that others come forward who are grappling with similar issues,” he says. 

Another way ethical allies can keep us motivated at work is by offering perspective. Keeping an eye on the horizon allows decision-makers to step back from the granular complexity of day-to-day decisions and re-focus on the core purpose of their work. From this place, better choices can be made. 

“We all tend to get caught up in the detail of our work and immediate tasks and targets; reminding ourselves of core purpose is both motivational but also serves as a check and balance to help us ensure we are on the right course,” Mares says.

The Mandarin, Melissa Coade, 1 April 2021. Read the full article here.

Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership’s programs include the 2 day Executive Ethics, 6 day Executive Colloquium and year-long Vincent Fairfax Fellowship. We also deliver online and tailored corporate programs. Find the right program for you. They are all held under the Chatham House Rule to encourage genuine and open debate, and allow participants to candidly discuss sometimes sensitive issues in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public, and contribute to a broader conversation. The alumni program offers ongoing leadership development support and a lifelong connection with Cranlana.

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