This Week in PR Ethics (5/7/20): Ethical Leadership

We have the first ever “theme week” on This Week in PR Ethics. During “unprecedented situations” and times of crisis, people look for ethical leadership. Some people step up, and some people don’t. Even good people make ethical missteps. I was intrigued to find so much discussion on ethical leadership this week, so I decided to dedicate the entire blog to the topic.

  • Did Vice President Pence model ethical leadership?This roundup of articles on Kaiser Health News opens up a few interesting ethical questions. First, it calls out the vice president for not modeling appropriate behavior by wearing a mask during his visit to Mayo clinic. We expect ethical leaders to model appropriate behavior. It also points out Mayo’s failure in not insisting he wear one (although it is tough to resist the power of the presidency, or vice presidency, in this case). And one of my pet peeves, they just refer to him as Pence, not Vice President Pence. By the nature of the news, unless he was the Vice President, his visit would not have been newsworthy.
  • A reminder to be ethical – I am sure everyone will be happy to know that according to FedWeek, the Office of Government Ethics has reminded the heads of all departments “that ethical behavior is key to maintaining the needed trust of federal employees and the public.”  Now I would hope that leaders would keep that in mind all the time, I am a proponent of regular and ongoing ethics training. My only real complaint is it is more effective to give examples or highlight issues rather than just say to “be ethical.”
  • Four behaviors of ethical leaders – I enjoyed this article from Dr Audrey Tang on Resilient Health highlighting the four behaviors of ethical leaders in a time of COVID (and frankly any time). We should always remember leaders help other succeed, make tough decisions, confront people about their behavior, and my personal favorite – let the group become their destiny.
  • Louisville and Ethical LeadershipThis week the University of Louisville received notice of allegations from the NCAA. I find it interesting that in the response they called out “Over the last two-and-a-half years, we are proud of how the University of Louisville has worked hard to transform itself into a model of compliance and ethical conduct and has not shied away from difficult decisions, going well-beyond reforms at any other involved institution.” And “The Department of Athletics began an ethical leadership series required for all athletics staff.” The response looks comprehensive, but it is distressing to me that having ethical leadership training is something new. Ethics should be involved in all leadership training.
Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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