Ethics of Power and Politics

No discussion on power and politics is complete without a reference to the related ethical issues.

We can begin this task by distinguishing between the political and the non-political in its use when it remains within the boundaries of formal authority, organizational policies and procedure, and job descriptions, and when it is directed towards ends sanctioned by the organization.

When the use of power moves outside the realm of authority, policies, procedures, and job descriptions, or is directed towards ends not sanctioned by the organization, the use of power is political.

Ethical issues emerge when the use of power stretches into the realm of political behavior. It is in this context that a manager must stop and seriously consider the ethical issues involved in every action.

The attitude that “ends justify the means” is not desirable. A person’s behavior must satisfy three criteria if it were to be ethical. These are:

  1. Criterion of utilitarian outcomes

    The behavior results in optimization of satisfaction of people inside and outside the organization, that is, it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

  2. Criterion of individual rights

    The behavior respects the rules of justice, that is, it treats people equitably and fairly as opposed to, arbitrary.

  3. Criterion, of distributive justice

    The behavior respects the rules of justice, that is, it treats people equitably and fairly as opposed to, arbitrarily.

It may be stated that behavior may fail to satisfy the three criteria but can still be considered ethical in the given situation. This special case must satisfy the criterion of overwhelming factors, a criterion that justifies a failure to satisfy one or more of the prior criteria of ethical political behavior.

This justification, however, must be based on truly overwhelming factors in which the special nature of the situation results in-

  1. Conflict among criteria (e.g., a behavior results in some good and some bad being done).
  2. Conflicts within criteria (e.g., a behavior uses questionable means to achieve a positive end).
  3. Incapacity to employ the criteria (e.g., a person’s behavior is based on inaccurate or incomplete information).

Ethics of Power and Politics

Use of these four criteria can add vigor to the analysis of the ethics of political behavior in organizations. All managers use power and politics to get their work done.

Thus, every manager bears a responsibility to do so in an ethical and socially responsible fashion. By recognizing and confronting ethical considerations such as those just discussed, each of us should be better prepared to meet this important challenge.

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