10 Commandments of Ethical Leadership

Written By Nik Koulogeorge


Oct. 4, 2021


Nov. 21, 2021

Spread the Word

At the core of three of the world's most popular religions are The 10 Commandments: a series of laws passed down to man to create a civil society that would allow for nations to grow out of tribes. Of all religious texts, the 10 Commandments may be the most recognizable in the world. I could come up with a list of generic leadership rules and call it an article. Instead, I am adapting rules that shaped much of civilized society to the language of today. You may have gripes with religion (or a specific religion) but that doesn't matter because this is my blog and that's not what this post is about.

Directional Guidelines

These are not "best practices" of leadership. We won't review coaching conversation techniques or how to make your employees happy. No, these are the commandments of ethical leadership. They are widely held expectations of decent people. Only those who wish to be decent people will see their value and choose to benefit from them. Remember - Leadership is about making good decisions. Becoming a solid, trusted leader requires integrity, knowledge, and practice. Some of the most educated people in the world make moronic decisions. The commandments are all about ethical decision-making.

1. We are all blobs of cells.

"There is no other God before me" means, to the ethical leader, that all humans, regardless of ethnicity, heritage, political or religious affiliation, come from the same place. You need not impose this sameness onto others, just know it for yourself.

The basis for ethical leadership is respect for life. Each of us is strands of DNA creating cells that pile onto each other into the form of a human. No matter how powerful, rich, influential, or useful you become, you are worth no more or less than any other person.

In Practice: Those who work for you and those who work above you are people. Treat them as equals no matter their title. You'll inspire those who look up to you and intrigue your superiors. Keep your head up and shoulders back. Accept your worth. Change the delivery of your message for different audiences, not your identity.

2. Become your role model.

"You shall not make for yourself an idol," is a simple way of saying that your favorite celebrity is still a human and still flawed. That includes musicians, scientists, politicians, actors, parents, and, as much as it pains me to say this, even Godney Britney Spears.

We often let the momentum behind an organization or movement die along with the presiding leader of a given time. Aspects you appreciate about others are things you should ingrain into yourself. You choose to be better; it is not a matter of "can" but a matter of "will." Building trust in yourself allows you to improve your circumstance. Do that with such tenacity that you become your monument to humankind.

In Practice: Your role models and mentors have flaws; expect that. If they are ethical leaders, they recognize they are no better than you (see: the 1st Commandment). If not, then you have discovered a way to rise above them. Flaws or baggage are not a reason to "cancel" another person - only a sign that they are human and should not have been worshiped in the first place.

3. Care for yourself. It's your responsibility.

"Do not take the name of the Lord in vain." In other words, chill out. Life is only a contest if you make it so (more later), so relax a little bit. Stop virtue-signaling via Twitter (at all, really). No one is required to care about how you look, what you write, or what you do. Most won't care unless you directly impact their standard of living.

Success can be fleeting. Don't let it get to your head. People's opinions vary. Don't let them get in your head. Self-care is about making sure that you can do the work you need to do. Taking a picture of you at a spa with #SelfCare is not self-care, it is social positioning.

In Practice: We are all encouraged to get out of the box, well self-care requires that you remain in the box. Go to bed at a consistent time. Brush your teeth. Eat carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Leave your cell phone at least 20 ft away from you unless you are in motion.

4. Make time for deeper reflection

"Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy" can be re-framed to mean that you should take time to appreciate your life and work at regular intervals. Those could be weekly (sermons), daily (prayers), or in coordination with U.S. federal holidays.

In Practice: Call a family member or close friend. Do something within the community. Plan a service project. This goes beyond self-care; it's self-realization. You need "sabbath" days to think about loved ones, set life goals, and calibrate your directional compass.

5. Resist resentment

Resentment leads to anger, fear, and hate. Consider how much of American politics is wrapped up in events that happened dozens or hundreds of years ago. Those who harbor resentment are keen to build upon it. It festers in the back of their minds, influencing every thought about a person or topic.

Feeling slighted by someone you trust can be an emptying experience. Ethical leaders learn to let go. This is what, "Honor your father and mother" means.

In Practice: Have a bad boss? Girlfriend cheats on you? Parents steal your cash? Appreciate that you can come out of that situation a stronger person and that you can escape a recurring problem if you choose to. If you feel that someone is beneath you then do not fall for the easy bait of "punching down." There are bigger fish to fry. Your life still has room to improve.

6. Fight defensively and courageously

"You shall not kill/murder" - When threatened, an animal makes itself appear bigger and a leader institutes rules. Aggression is a tool for those who feel threatened, and it can lead to self-destruction if employed carelessly. We are adults now. Bullying isn't chill.

Ethical leaders are not pushovers. It is considered okay to fight back if you are legitimately threatened. Just be wary not to escalate too quickly. Two male lobsters will flash their claws, stand tall, wave antennae and blow jets of hormones signaling their health to opponents before an attack. Learn to take a measured approach to your opponents, and be careful not to treat all opponents as enemies.

In Practice: There is a mantra employed by ethical healers/doctors around the world: "First do no harm." You may not be on the verge of killing someone, but your response to a crisis can just as easily kill someone's spirit. Tell your boss the truth before you tell the CEO how your boss messed up.

Your only mission in life is to be you, and walking away from a fight is an easy way to protect yourself. If you cannot walk away, then consider how far you are willing to escalate a situation before backing down. Once you have won a fight/debate, don't continue throwing punches - people get nasty when they are backed into a corner or in survival mode.

7. Stick to commitments within your means.

"You shall not commit adultery" should not be enslaved to the concept of marriage. Marriage is simply a contractual obligation. Ethical leaders keep their promises and live up to their obligations. So, they should only commit to realistic goals.

This benefits both parties. You protect and build upon your reputation when you produce results close to or better than what you promised. If you are passed over for a more promising opportunity, you still benefit if they over-promised.

In Practice: If you have too much on your plate, acknowledge it and refuse (and I mean passionately REFUSE) to add more to it. If you can't seem to remain faithful in a relationship, end it. Leadership (ethical or not) relies on trust. Over-committing creates as much mistrust as general incompetency.

8. Be a creator/producer

"Should someone be allowed to steal a loaf of bread if their children are starving?" I don't know, but that's not what the 8th Commandment, "Thou shall not steal," is as it relates to ethical leadership. Earn your credit. Give others their credit. It's that simple.

Micromanagement is detestable because it means that a leader is too consumed in controlling what others create. Leaders rise in positions so that they can continue to advance their organization. Most of your time should be focused on what you need to do.

In Practice: If you are in a position to manage others, then choose periods where they are on their own. Give them instructions if you need to, but you have your work to do. Even if your job is 100% managing others, you can spend your alone time reading articles or watching videos about management. Give someone credit if they help you or contributed to your end-product. Always produce. Always have something to offer.

9. Your words reflect your character

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" scolds both against lying and gossiping.

Gossip destroys teams and eliminates trust, even among those you gossip with! People know not to share openly with a gossiper, and gossip often serves no purpose other than to bring someone else down. We've discussed not creating or giving in to resentment, and resentment often manifests itself into "civil" gossip. "Keeping it real" does not mean placing all of the blame on those you dislike.

Small lies, even white lies, create a habit of lying. The more one lies, the easier it is to do so. Consider white lies the gateway drug to "hard lies." People learn not to trust someone who lies to make them feel better. You should want to be sought out or avoided for telling the truth. Those who avoid you for speaking the truth are just trying to get you hooked on lies.

In Practice: Remove yourself from conversations if they begin to involve gossip. Find something better to talk about than other people. Search the Eleanor Roosevelt quote about "small minds." Speak truthfully. The immediate pain is worth bearing when you consider the chronic effects of regular lies on your character.

10. Play the game you want to play.

Ethical leaders translate, "You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor," into an understanding that we often benchmark our success against the "success" of others. That leads to stress and insanity.

It is okay to want to be compensated as well as or better than an under-performing peer, but make that case for yourself or choose to walk out the door. You don't have to settle, but you don't need to bring someone else down. Ever.

An example of this is the panic most feel when they are about to miss a bus or train. We see these people running frantically through the airport or train station. If they make it, they can rest easy. If they don't, the panic multiplies over and over again. . . plus now they are sweaty. I read about this in a book titled Black Swan by Nassim Taleb.

I no longer rush to work, meetings, or to catch plans. In most cases, I have become better at organizing myself and getting places on time. If I still miss my flight, at least I didn't send my cortisol (stress hormone) levels skyrocketing in the process. Stress leads to an early death.

In Practice: Create your rules for engagement and make them clear with others. My company will not sign contracts with national fraternities to mandate that chapters use my material, no matter how amazing it is. That is a rule of engagement.

This isn't to say that you should disregard the schedules and values of others. Rather, it is to say that the rat race is in your head. Congratulate someone when they accomplish something and get back to taking care of you. Each of us faces ups and downs, and those seldom match up with the ups and downs of those around us.

Your time will only come if you define what "your time" is. Playing by another's playbook is lazy and will never work as well for you as it did for them.

Fraternity Man is an ad-free and independent publication. Help keep it going and growing by contributing as little as $2. (Links below will take you to a secure payment portal via Stripe)

A free way to support: Subscribe to the Fraternity Man newsletter for [very occasional] updates and giveaways.

Connect with Fraternity Man
© 2019 - 2021 All rights reserved.